"NDM-1 superbugs" have received a lot of press the last day or two. That’s lead to questions about whether there may be any risks for pets.

It’s good to see that people are thinking about how this might affect other animal species. That’s a thought process that would have been rare a few years ago, and which was probably fostered by the emergence of MRSA in animals.

What it NDM-1?

  • NDM-1 stands for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1. It is a type of beta-lactamase, an enzyme that inactivates certain antibiotics (those of the beta-lactam class). The concern with NDM-1 is that it inactivates carbapenem antibiotics, an important class of drugs that is often used to treat serious and life-threatening infections.

Where is it a problem?

  • It’s currently mainly a problem in India and Pakistan.

Will is spread to other regions?

  • Probably. It’s easy for people to travel around the world quickly, and it’s easy for new microorganisms to travel with them. A bug that originates in one region can very easily spread across the planet. NDM-1 has been found in a few other countries, including Australia, parts of Europe and Canada. There is concern that the increase in health tourism (traveling to countries like India for cheap and quick procedures like elective surgeries) will result in spread of NDM-1, since people could pick up the bug in hospitals and bring them home. Transmission of NDM-1 in hospitals from patients that had healthcare procedures abroad has been documented in the UK. People traveling to regions where the organism is present for other reasons are also possible sources.

Can it affect pets?

  • Probably. Two important types of bacteria, E. coli and Klebsiella spp, can carry NDM-1 (and probably other related bacteria can as well). These can cause infections in many different species. As more people carry bacteria with NDM-1, there’s a greater chance that pets will be exposed, as we’ve clearly seen with MRSA. Dogs that visit human hospitals and pets owned by people who visit India for healthcare are probably at greatest risk, with pets of people who have been hospitalized and pets of healthcare workers likely also at increased risk.

What can we do to reduce the risks?

  • Nothing specific. The most important factor here is control of NDM-1 in human hospitals. At the animal level, there’s nothing in particular we can do about NDM-1 at the moment. The keys are prudent use of antibiotics (to reduce the likelihood that resistant strains will get established in pets), good general infection control in households and veterinary hospitals (to reduce opportunistic infections by bacteria that can carry NDM-1), and making sure that cultures are taken when infections are present (to find out if/when this becomes a problem).