Plastic Surgery Tourists Seeking Cheaper Operations in India Brought Back Drug-Resistant Superbugs

Recovery time and hefty cost aren’t the only downsides to plastic surgery—in fact, according to researchers, patients from Britain who sought cheaper cosmetic surgery operations in South Asia carried a new strain of superbugs into their home countries, and the bacteria could spread across the world.

Dr. Timothy Walsh from Cardiff University discovered the so-called NDM-1 gene in two types of bacteria, including pneumoniae and Escherichia coli, in a Swedish patient admitted to a hospital in India last year. Since that time, hospital infections that were already difficult to treat are becoming nearly impossible to cure. In fact, some hospitals infections are even resistant to a group of antibiotics called carbapenems that are usually reserved for only the most resistant bugs. Now researchers at Madras University are conducting a new study to determine how common the NDM-1 producing bacteria are in South Asia and Britain, where several other cases have turned up. While checking hospital patients with symptoms, the researchers discovered 44 cases in Indian hospitals, as well as additional cases in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Similarly, they discovered 37 cases in Britain, confirming their suspicions that British patients were traveling to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to undergo plastic surgery procedures. Since India also provides cosmetic surgery procedures to Americans, the researchers are also concerned that the superbugs with travel to the West.

NDM-1 was found mostly in E. coli, a common source of urinary tract infections and pneumonia. The superbug was resistant to all antibiotics except two, but even in some cases, the drugs weren’t successful in stopping the infection. The emergence of these drug-resistant strains could become a serious global public health problem, as more patients seek cheaper plastic surgery alternatives abroad and carry the superbugs back with them to their home countries.

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