In a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, the discovery of the NDM-1 bacteria was found in British patients returning from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan after medical treatment. This practice, also known as medical tourism, makes it possible to obtain lower-priced surgical treatments overseas. As a result, worldwide health officials are now seeing an influx of this "superbug."
The NDM-1, New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, is also being carried over by patients in the United States and South Asia, who also have received surgical care in India. "Scientists say it is highly resistant to antibiotics and is nearly impossible to treat," says David Goldstein, president of Health Options Worldwide (HOW), an online medical tourism agency.
So far, in the U.S., there have been three diagnosed cases and all three patients had recently received medical care in India, a country well known for affordable healthcare. Experts say there are no new upcoming medications to combat NDM-1, which could result a global health concern.
"More and more people are traveling overseas to countries like India in search of inexpensive medical treatments, such as cosmetic surgery," Goldstein says, "This 'superbug' has the potential of becoming an epidemic if no new antibiotics are created to counteract it."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is putting a very high priority on these highly resistant infections. Medical experts fear that the booming medical tourism industries overseas could create a rise in antibiotic resistance, due to patients bringing back dangerous bugs to their home countries. "Since many patients are traveling overseas to places like India and Pakistan for elective procedures, this could become very dangerous very quickly," Goldstein says.
"This 'superbug' is particularly the reason why HOW promotes domestic medical tourism," said Goldstein, "You just don't see these kinds of issues here in the U.S., the kinds of bacteria that are difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat." But the issues go beyond infection, continued Goldstein, "What if an overseas patient needed a blood transfusion? How can they be totally secure in the source of that blood?"
Goldstein acknowledges that overseas hospitals and doctors may be well qualified, but they are not upheld to the same standards as U.S. hospitals and doctors. "There's also the question of legal action, if a patient were to have a malpractice case overseas - what recourse do they have?" he said, "What if you were to experience complications on the way home? How is that handled?"
These would be non-issues domestically. "Domestic medical tourism is on the rise, because American healthcare providers are trying to remain competitive in the face of this emerging market, and are lowering their prices in order to compete," Goldstein says. The results mean lower prices and quality healthcare without leaving the mainland. "With stringent medical regulations and legal protection, the patient is protected all around, eliminating the need to travel anywhere else for affordable healthcare."