EDMONTON — Doctors in Alberta are warning people that there are risks involved in travelling to foreign lands to get medical help, and they’re citing a new antibiotic-resistant superbug emerging in southern Asia as a prime example.
The province confirmed Thursday that it had one reported case of infection in the spring. Dr. Gerry Predy, Medical Officer of Health, would say only that the individual had been in a hospital in India before being infected and was discharged after being treated back in Canada.
Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta Health Services’ senior medical director, said anyone considering travel for medical treatment anywhere in the world should weigh the risks.
“I would advise individuals to look at their options carefully and to understand that there are consequences to decisions,” Joffe told a news conference.
“There are potential complications to any procedures, anywhere they are done.”
The journal Lancet Infectious Diseases carried a study earlier this week describing bacteria with resistance conferred by an enzyme called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1.
It has been seen largely in E. coli bacteria and on DNA structures that can be easily copied and passed on to other types of bacteria. It is already widespread in India and has been identified in 37 people who returned to Britain after surgery in India or Pakistan. It has also has been detected in Australia, the United States, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Only one other infection has been reported in Canada — involving a woman who was successfully treated with a combination of antibiotics in B.C., again after being in India.
The superbug is expected to spread worldwide, since many Americans and Europeans travel to India and Pakistan for elective procedures such as cosmetic surgery, the researchers said.
India has also become a destination for people seeking so-called liberation treatment for multiple sclerosis. The treatment is based on a theory — first put forward by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni — that blocked veins in the neck or spinal cord are to blame for MS. However, two recent studies have cast doubt on its effectiveness.
Joffe wouldn’t address the liberation treatment and travel to India specifically, but did repeat his warning when asked about the risks.
“Again, I would emphasize that travelling anywhere for medical procedures, cosmetic procedures, necessary medical procedures or anything comes with a potential risk.”
The Indian Health Ministry came out swinging against the Lancet study Thursday, according to published reports in that country’s media.
The Times of India quoted a health ministry statement as saying the report was tainted by funding from the European Union and drug companies.