bacteriaA strain of typhoid impervious to antibiotics and drugs is spreading throughout the world, replacing ‘normal’ typhoid that is treatable. Researches from the Wellcome Trust note that bacterial samples from over 63 countries, such as Asian and Africa are resistant to conventional drugs and are becoming more difficult to kill.

Typhoid fever and its effects

Bacteria like Salmonella typhi or the related Salmonella paratyphi usually cause typhoid fever, and people get this when they eat food or drink water that is contaminated by these bacteria. Common symptoms include nausea and fever, as well as abdominal pain and pink spots on the chest. This sickness is treatable with antibiotics and is only fatal when not treated immediately.

The new strain of typhoid, however, is slowly replacing these manageable forms of bacteria with something that is far more resistant, if not totally immune to antibiotics.

A looming threat

The new strain originates from a single family of bacteria, H58, and is a looming threat that needs to be taken seriously. Dr. Kathryn Holt from the University of Mebourne explains that ‘Multidrug-resistant typhoid has been coming and going since the 1970s.’ She further explains that this happens when ‘bacteria picks up novel antimicrobial resistant genes, which are usually lost when we switch to a new drug.’

Bacteria, owing to its adaptive nature, can become resistant to antibiotics and things that kill them outright. This is natural selection happening; in a large population of bacteria, there are may be some that are not affected by antibiotics, which then survive and reproduce. When this happens, the offspring are more resilient to the antibiotics until eventually they are outright immune to the effects.

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Dr. Holt notes that the same is happening to bacteria within H58, with antimicrobial resistant genes ‘becoming a stable part of the genome, which means multiple-antibiotic resistant typhoid is here to stay.’ Studies show that the drug-resistant bacteria is common in places where older antibiotics such sulfonamide based drugs and penicillin are used. These older antibiotics no longer kill off typhoid causing bacteria outright, and H58 apparently exploited this weakness and eventually made it resistant to newer antibiotics.

The H58 strain originated from South Asia almost thirty years ago and has spread throughout Western and Southeast Asia all the way to Fiji and South Africa. The same group of multi-drug resistant bacteria may be the cause an ongoing epidemic of typhoid fever in Africa.

The WHO notes that limiting the use of outdated and inappropriate antibiotics is the first step in countering the new strain, as well as an increase in research to develop an antibiotic that bacteria from the H58 strain is susceptible to.

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