A superbug, originating in India, resistant to nearly all antibiotics, must be tracked down and addressed globally, warned scientists on Monday.
"There is an urgent need, first, to put in place an international surveillance system over the coming months and, second, to test all the patients admitted to any given health system" in as many countries as possible, said Patrice Nordmann of France's Bicetre Hospital.
"For the moment, we don't know how fast this phenomenon is spreading... it could take months or years, but what is certain is that is will spread," he told AFP, noting that measures have already been agreed in France and are under discussion in Japan, Singapore and China.
"It's a bit like a time bomb."
Nordmann was in Boston for the 50th annual meeting of the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC), the world's largest gathering of infectious disease specialists, which is drawing some 12,000 people here September 12-14.
The head of Bicetre's department of bacteriology and virology noted that the bacteria will find fertile ground in India's massive 1.3 billion-person strong population, and could easily be carried back and forth by the country's massive diaspora.
The so-called "superbug," dubbed NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1), and its variants appear to have originated in India and were first detected in Britain in 2007.
The bug attracted media attention after the August publication of a research article in Britain's Lancet journal that said an Indian "medical tourist" appeared to have brought the bacteria to Britain.
A Belgian citizen hospitalized in Pakistan after a car accident was the first known death related to infection by the superbug.