Back in June, there was an unnerving report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that NDM-1, the “Indian supergene” that renders common hospital-acquired infections practically untreatable, had been found in the military hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
The gene was being carried by a gut bacterium, Providencia stuartii, that was causing septicemia in an Afghan national who had been taken in by the military hospital. The particular strain of NDM-1 could be treated only by a single drug, aztreonam; it was resistant to everything else. Unsurprisingly, the victim died.
Though it wasn’t explicitly stated, the subtext of the CDC’s brief bulletin was clear: By extending compassion to the local resident (who was badly burned and had been treated at a hospital in Kabul), the military staff had brought into their hospital a highly resistant organism that could endanger their troops. It made me wonder, at the time, how often this happened, and what the consequences might be.
A study performed at Bagram, and published this month in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, supplies an answer, and it’s a troubling one.