Superbugs Don’t Respect Borders

Combating the growing threat of antibiotic resistance must remain a top global priority

The recently reported outbreak of a deadly new type of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia in Hangzhou, China, has once again raised alarm around the world about the growing specter of an untreatable superbug. While not yet identified outside of China, it is likely just a matter of time.

This new type of multidrug-resistant and highly transmissible pneumonia is the most recent example of increasingly dangerous bacteria. It follows on the heels of other alarming new types of antibiotic resistance discovered in recent years, such as mcr-1 and NDM-1. The latter spread to more than 80 countries in just a few years after its initial identification in the mid-2000s (see map below). These outbreaks are a sobering reminder that when antibiotic resistance develops anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. 


Note: Comprehensive review of literature informing the GIF was conducted in early 2017. Further questions on methodology can be directed to the project at [email protected].

To help address this growing concern, there have been some promising advances. At last year’s United Nations General Assembly high-level meetings, all 193 member countries agreed to develop national action plans to combat antibiotic resistance. However, sustained efforts and building on international momentum will be critically important in the global fight against superbugs. New, increasingly resistant and dangerous bacteria will continue to emerge, and when they do the world must be ready.   

Kathy Talkington directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project.

E. Coli bacteria
E. Coli bacteria

New Type of Antibiotic Resistance Raises Alarm

Questions and answers about the recently discovered bacterial gene

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A new type of antibiotic resistance, first discovered in China at the end of 2015, has been found in bacterial samples from around the world, including the U.S. This resistance is of particular concern because it is caused by a gene, known as mcr-1, that not only makes bacteria resistant to colistin—an antibiotic of last resort in human medicine—but also is readily transferable to different kinds of bacteria. Experts believe that as mcr-1 spreads further and combines with other resistant bacteria, it will create new types of multidrug-resistant bacteria that existing antibiotics may not be able to defeat.


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