Antibiotic resistant typhoid breaks out world wide

Greydon Tomkowitz, Print Editor

A new strain of typhoid fever, labeled with the family name “H58,” has spread globally.

A large international effort has been undertaken to study the disease. This study included more than 70 scientists from more than a dozen countries world wide.

The results of this research has yielded one of the most comprehensive sets of genetic data on a human infectious agent and paints a worrying scene of an “ever-increasing public health threat,” Scientists involved in the study said.

Typhoid is a highly contagious disease, it can spread through drinking or eating contaminated matter and symptoms include nausea, fever, abdominal pain and pink spots on the chest. Untreated, the disease can lead to complications in the gut and head, which may prove fatal in up to 20% of patients.

Vaccines are available; however, due to limited cost effectiveness, they are not widely used in poorer countries.

Also, regular strains of the infection can be treated with antibiotic drugs. However, this study found that the H58 “superbug” version, which is resistant to multiple types of antibiotics, is now becoming dominant.

“H58 is displacing other typhoid strains, completely transforming the genetic architecture of the disease and creating a previously under appreciated and on-going epidemic,” the researchers said in a statement about their findings.

Vanessa Wong of Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who was part of the international team, said that since typhoid affects around 30 million people a year, robust and detailed good global surveillance is critical to trying to contain it.

Typhoid is an incredibly dangerous disease; and if containment is ineffective, this superbug could spread world wide very quickly.

In a 2013 study, researchers found that 47% of all typhoid bacteria are in the H58 family.

H58 emerged in South Asia 25 to 30 years ago and spread to Southeast Asia, Western Asia, East and South Africa and Fiji. They also found evidence of a recent and unreported wave of H58 transmission in many countries in Africa, which may represent an ongoing epidemic.

Resistance “has been coming and going since the 1970s,” Kathryn Holt, a scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia who worked on the study, but in the H58 strain, the resistance genes are becoming a stable part of the genome “which means multiple antibiotic resistant typhoid is here to stay”.