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Cost of Compassion: Drug Resistance in Military Hospitals


Back in June, there was an unnerving report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that NDM-1, the “Indian supergene” that renders common hospital-acquired infections practically untreatable, had been found in the military hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The gene was being carried by a gut bacterium, Providencia stuartii, that was causing septicemia in an Afghan national who had been taken in by the military hospital. The particular strain of NDM-1 could be treated only by a single drug, aztreonam; it was resistant to everything else. Unsurprisingly, the victim died.

Though it wasn’t explicitly stated, the subtext of the CDC’s brief bulletin was clear: By extending compassion to the local resident (who was badly burned and had been treated at a hospital in Kabul), the military staff had brought into their hospital a highly resistant organism that could endanger their troops. It made me wonder, at the time, how often this happened, and what the consequences might be.

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