Superbugs have been causing concern for quite a few years now. They have been studied and combated by increasingly powerful antibiotics, and higher standards of hygiene have been implemented in hospitals (where most infections by superbugs are acquired). Health professionals breathed a sigh of relief when Vancomycin (along with a few other antibiotics) was found to be effective against MRSA (Methicillin-resisitant Staphylococcus aureus), but then VRSA (Vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) emerged. It seems if we manage to find a weapon against a bad germ, a worse one will eventually pop up.
NDM stands for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, a gene that has appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in various bacterial species like E.Coli (that can cause severe gastro-enteritis) and Klebsiella pneumonia (that can cause pneumonia). It confers multi-drug resistance to the bacteria it is found in, making it resistant to most antibiotics (including those considered a "last resort" for resistant bacterial infections like Carbapenems), and at least one strain studied by scientists has been found to be resistant to all known antibiotics. Cases of infections caused by NDM-gene carrying bacteria have been found in patients in India, the UK, the US, Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Sweden.Most cases seem to be associated with patients having gone to India for medical procedures that are more affordable than in their home countries (medical tourism), though India has officially rejected this claim.
One of the most worrying aspects is that it would appear this gene can spread or "jump" across bacterial species, which would mean that it could, for example, turn bacteria responsible for relatively low-impact and treatable infections into resistant, deadly germs. This would become even more of a concern if it impacted a bacteria that was very easily transferred from person to person, leading to fast-spreading, lethal epidemics.
Measures being taken to stop the spread of bacteria containing this gene are surveillance, rapid identification and isolation of any hospital patients who are infected. Normal hospital procedures regarding disinfection such as proper hand washing and cleaning of hospital areas and equipment also help.
It remains to be seen whether this becomes the next global pandemic, whether the usefulness of the antibiotic is finally coming to an end and whether a new "super-drug" will be discovered to counteract this new superbug.