Newly reported gene, mcr-1 imported from China in shrimp threatens last resort antibiotic colistin

A new gene is known as mcr-1 which can make bacteria resistant to colistin, a last-resort drug for some multidrug resistant infections-was first reported in China in November 2015 and in the United States in May 2016. The mcr-1 gene is on a plasmid, a small piece of DNA that is able to move from one bacterium to another and it can quickly spread to other bacteria. Solistin is a critical last resort option that has recently been used to treat patients with infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria. In fish farms in China, feeds containing many kinds of antibiotics are now used heavily. The fish and shrimp that are grown and exported contain heavy amounts of antibiotics.

By British government estimates, over 700,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections worldwide. If the trend continues over 10 million will die each year from this cause by 2050, more than will die from cancer. In China, more than 90 percent of the antibiotics fed to pigs pass undegraded through their urine and feces into the ponds where the seafood is raised.  China is the world’s largest exporter of seafood supplying 60 percent of the global total. Scientists have tracked the spread of colistin-resistant bacteria throughout Asia, Europe and into the Western Hemisphere. In May 2016, the first mcr-1 bacteria was found in two pigs in Pennsylvania.

By August it was announced that American patients had been infected with a strain of bacteria which had resistance to colistin and another antibiotic. In tracking the problem, authorities learned that illegal shipments of shrimp coming from China had been transshipped to other nations and mislabeled as coming from Malaysia. Trans-shipping is now much more common and is expected to spike even more as a result of the new tariffs.  A review of data has indicated that in many years, 75 percent of drug-contaminated shrimp entered the U.S. originating in China. The government is trying to increase inspections but so far this has not been successful.

Individuals may report fraud in the importation of shrimp and other fish and collect a percentage of the government fines imposed under The False Claims Act.