It is now the year of the chicken in China – in more ways than we knew. The first systematic study of bacterial resistance to last-resort on farms and hospitals in China has revealed far more resistance than standard tests had previously suggested, especially on chicken farms and meat. Worse, the study reveals for the first time that the genes that give bacteria their resistance are being spread by flies.

Antibiotics of last resort constitute our final weapons against . Carbapenems are often used as such drugs, but bacteria with are spreading.

When carbapenems fail, one of the few options left is the antibiotic colistin, but in 2015, . The genes for both types of resistance can spread between different types of bacteria.

The colistin resistance gene, mrc-1, has now been found in 25 countries, on four continents. It was first detected in China, though it is not known if it evolved there. It could well have, however: unlike in western countries, in China colistin is not used as an antibiotic in people, but 8000 tonnes of the drug is given to animals as a growth promoter every year, mainly to pigs and chickens.

In April, this practice will be banned in China, and colistin will begin to be used to treat people instead. But it may be too late.

Carried by flies

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