Japan Confirms First Case of New Superbug Gene

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Japan has confirmed the nation's first case of a new gene in bacteria that allows the microorganisms to become drug-resistant superbugs, detected in a man who had medical treatment in India, a health ministry official said Tuesday.

The gene, known as NDM-1, was found in a Japanese man in his 50s, health ministry official Kensuke Nakajima said.

Researchers say the gene — which appears to be circulating widely in India — alters bacteria, making them resistant to nearly all known antibiotics.

The man was hospitalized in April 2009 after returning from India where he had medical treatment. Nakajima declined to say what kind of treatment the man had received in India, citing the man's privacy.

The man had a high fever while staying at a hospital in Tochigi, north of Tokyo. He was discharged in October last year.

The hospital — Dokkyo Medical University Hospital — kept a preserved sample of the suspected superbug from the man. The hospital examined the sample after the British medical journal Lancet reported about the NDM-1 in August.

The Tochigi hospital notified the health ministry about the detection of the NDM-1 gene. It told the ministry that no in-hospital infections were found.

Following the discovery of Japan's first superbug case, the health ministry launched a nationwide survey on the NDM-1 gene, asking local health authorities to check on hospitals.

Though already widespread in India, the new superbug gene has been detected in Australia, Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.K.

Researchers say since many Americans and Europeans travel to India and Pakistan for elective procedures like cosmetic surgery, it was likely the superbug gene would spread worldwide.