Courtesy Center for Disease ControlY’all ever watch Degrassi High? Yeah, me neither! I always assumed it was sort of like a Canadian Beverly Hills 90210, which I also never watched!
Still, though, remember that episode where the boys found some sort of virus in Julie’s stool, and some people were like, “Ew! Gross! Party canceled, eh?” but Julie was like, “Shove it! A little disease in your stool doesn’t mean anything! You’re just looking for an excuse not to come to my party!”
And, of course, everyone was like, “Uh, no, we don’t care about your party. We just think your stool is sick.” And then Julie got her claws out, and if everybody didn’t have a virus before, they did afterward, because scratching is a dirty way to fight. Literally.
If Julie is a real character, and if something like that happened in Degrassi High, it bears more than a little similarity to a current situation in India. (Ok, maybe not more than a little, but, still, it was fun to take a stroll down memory lane back to ol’ Degrassi High. Remember when Joel got his hand stuck in Maureen’s mouth, and they had to go to class that way?! Ha!)
See, last fall a group of British scientists took a couple hundred water samples from around New Delhi. (I like to think of Delhi as the Degrassi High of South Asia*.) The scientist found that 2 of the samples from public tap water and 51 of the samples collected from the streets contained superbug genes. Based on that, they guessed that about half a million people in the city carry the superbug genes in their gut bacteria.
To be clear, when I say “superbug,” I’m talking about extremely antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and not the giant cockroach version of Tanya, featured in the “Metamorphosis” episode of Degrassi. For one thing, she would never have fit into one of those little water samples. Come to think of it, though, she did wear jeans.
The “superbug” in question isn’t so much a particular bacteria—it’s a set of genes for antibiotic resistance (called “NDM-1”). Bacteria are creepy little jerks (much like Degrassi High’s own “Wicked” William Beauchamp) and they trade genes like we (sometimes) trade jeans, and so the scientists found the superbug genes in 11 different types of bacteria, including the species that cause cholera and dysentery.
And this is where the high school drama gets spicy! The scientists and some World Health Organization folks were all, “Um… India? Gross! This stuff is dangerous, and we have to take care of it.”
But then India was like, “Your studies are garbage! We looked at 2000 people, and we couldn’t find any evidence of the superbug genes. Besides, everyone knows that bacteria containing superbug genes are, like, everywhere**, and it isn’t an issue. You’re just making people think India is scary … and it’s not, eh!”†
And then the British scientists said, “This is how epidemics start!”
And India was like, “You’re how epidemics start!”
And then they all got their claws out.
Anyway, India’s probably right that it doesn’t make sense picking on India for having some nasty genes in their bacteria, and making it seem like it’s a unique problem for them. But the scientists are probably right, too, because the study may be indicative of an increasing global prevalence of really dangerous traits in infectious bacteria, and acting like it’s no big deal isn’t going to help the problem. What will help the problem is investing in quality sanitation infrastructure for large (and growing) urban populations. Sort of like the transition from Degrassi Junior High to Degrassi High. We all know that Degrassi High had entirely new sets of problems. Teen pregnancy, for one. But arguing never solved that, and it won’t solve the spread of superbugs.
*Dhaka is the Beverly Hills 90210 of South Asia, in case you were wondering.
**Except, apparently, in the 2000 people they tested?
†For actual quotes, please see this article.