A new superbug that is resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics has entered UK hospitals, researchers at The Lancet have noted, saying that its potential “to be a worldwide public health problem is great”.

The researchers have been investigating the prevalence of New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1, or NDM-1 and found it is becoming more common in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. They also noted that it has appeared in the UK as a result of patients returning after treatment.

Writing in The Lancet Infectious Diseases publication, the researchers found 44 NDM-1-positive bacteria in Chennai, 26 in Haryana, 37 in the UK and 73 in other sites in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Speaking about the UK cases, study co-author David Livermore, director of the antibiotic resistance monitoring unit at the country’s Health Protection Agency. noted that "most, not all, had previously travelled to the Indian subcontinent, and many had received hospital treatment there." including cosmetic surgery.

He added that resistance to one of the major groups of antibiotics, the carbapenems eg AstraZeneca's Merrem (meropenem) is widespread and the NDM-1 gene has also been detected in Australia, Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and Sweden.

In an accompanying editorial, Johann Pitout of the University of Calgary, said that "if this emerging public health threat is ignored, sooner or later the medical community could be confronted with carbapenem-resistant [bacteria] that cause common infections”. This will result in treatment failures “with substantial increases in healthcare costs", he added.