RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Researchers tracking disease have found a new type of antibiotic resistance emerging from China that they say could be unstoppable. NPR's global health correspondent Jason Beaubien is following that story.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: And pretty frightening, what's going on here?
BEAUBIEN: There has been a lot of talk about a post-antibiotic world. You know, health officials have been seeing that resistance to antibiotics is growing. You know, some have becoming completely ineffective. What's happening now is that these researchers in China have found this new form of bacteria that has two really disturbing characteristics. First, it's completely resistant to the last resort antibiotic that they were using to try to wipe it out. And then second, this strain of bacteria is able to pass on its resistance to other strains of bacteria, in a way that researchers just hadn't seen before. And that raises the concern that the end of antibiotics might be coming far sooner than even some of the antibiotic apocalypse people had been predicting.
MONTAGNE: And how widespread is this problem, right now?
BEAUBIEN: You know, this issue of antibiotic resistance is definitely a global problem. It's all over the world. This new resistance that's being reported in China - and it's just identified. It was reported in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases. Researchers found it both in pigs and in people who had consumed those products. So I talked with David Plunkett at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He's worked a lot on the issue of the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production. And he called this new report really frightening.
DAVID PLUNKETT: You're looking at the last line of defense. And the potential for it now to spread not only from China but to spread around the world. So you're looking at the potential for untreatable epidemics.
MONTAGNE: Untreatable epidemics. What can be done or is being done about this?
BEAUBIEN: If this form of resistance is able to spread you could have entire classes of antibiotics becoming completely useless. One of the things that can be done is to limit the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. You know, in some parts of the world and here in United States farmers at times use antibiotics not just on sick animals. And then that turns into these incubators for resistance. The other option is to develop new drugs - new antibiotics. But unfortunately there hasn't been much progress on this. There just aren't the financial incentives for drug companies to pour huge amounts of money into developing new antibiotics, until those antibiotics actually fail, and at that point it's too late. The basic global plan right now is to try to monitor for this resistance, isolate it when that's possible and limit antibiotic use so that these wonder drugs continue to be available for as long as possible.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks very much.
BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.
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