The team was led by Cesar A. Arias, M.D., Ph.D., at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The new superbug is part of a class of highly-resistant bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, which is a major cause of hospital and community-associated infections.
The superbug has also acquired high levels of resistance to vancomycin, the most common and least expensive antibiotic used to treat severe MRSA infections worldwide.
Most worrisome is that genomic analyses indicated that this novel vancomycin-resistant MRSA superbug belongs to a genetic lineage that is commonly found outside hospitals (designated community-associated MRSA), Arias, the report's senior author and an associate professor of medicine, microbiology and molecular genetics at the UTHealth Medical School said.
Previous research has suggested that community-associated MRSA can disseminate rapidly among people and is responsible for the majority of skin and soft tissue infections (sores) in patients of all ages. Some of these infections can become serious and even fatal.
Since community-associated MRSA is thought to be transmitted mainly by skin contact, the new superbug may affect not only sick people or those with a weakened immune system but also healthy individuals, according to Arias.
Apart from causing localized skin infections, the MRSA superbug has the ability to invade the bloodstream and may become a serious threat.
Arias and his colleagues conducted microbiological and genetic analyses of an MRSA superbug recovered from the blood of a 35-year-old Brazilian man and identified a novel transferable genetic element (plasmid) that carries the genes necessary for vancomycin resistance (vanA gene cluster).
The report is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.