The overuse of antibiotics may not be solely to blame for the growing crisis of drug-resistant bugs, researchers claim.
Deemed to be one of the biggest threats to humanity, the issue has previously been cited as severe as terrorism and global warming.
Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
However, a new Swiss study suggests bacteria can also become resistant to drugs and become deadly by attacking rival bugs.
Deemed to be one of the biggest threats to humanity, antibiotic resistance has previously been cited as severe as terrorism and global warming
University of Basel experts found bugs can catch their competitors’ drug resistance genes after killing them in the battle for space and resources.
What did they find?
Certain strains of bacteria inject their rivals with a toxic cocktail of proteins, called effectors, which causes them to die.
The findings were made after analysing Acinetobacter baylyi – a relative of the ‘Iraq bug’ which caused severe wound infections in some American soldiers.
Scientists found the predator bug can pick-up released DNA fragments, such as drug resistance genes, from the bacteria that it kills.
Professor Marek Basler, lead researcher, said the process ‘can also be found in other pathogens such as those which cause pneumonia or cholera’.
The new findings, which follow a surge in cases of so-called super gonorrhoea in the summer, were published in the journal Cell Reports.
WHO confirmed in July that three people worldwide developed the superbug, which is resistant to all forms of treatment.
THE SUPERBUG THAT IS RESISTANT TO ALL
A Nevada woman was killed by a superbug that proved resistant to every antibiotic available in the US, a report revealed in January.
Doctors tried to cure the 70-year-old patient with 26 antibiotics after she was admitted to an acute care hospital in mid-August 2016.
But nothing stood up against the aggressive bacteria. She died two weeks later of septic shock.
The unprecedented case was revealed in the Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity And Mortality Report.
Four other patients were treated in the US for antibiotic resistance in 2016. But this case proved pivotal for the agency.
The woman was admitted to a hospital in Reno, Nevada, after an extended trip in India. During her trip, she fractured her right thigh bone.
Over the course of a number of hospital visits in India, this developed into an infection of the right hip and thigh bone, leaving her in incredible pain.
Doctors also claim medicines including penicillin no longer work on sore throats, skin infections and, more seriously, pneumonia.
A ‘post-antibiotic’ era
The World Health Organization has previously warned if nothing is done the world was headed for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate answers to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed last year that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.
How many people will it kill?
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill ten million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.
A lack of drugs in the pipeline
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.
In September the World Health Organisation warned that antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would also become incredibly ‘risky’.