A highly drug-resistant strain of a nasty stomach bug known as Shigella—which has emerged as a growing public health concern in the United States and Canada—could spread rapidly, warns a Canadian researcher who studies factors that make bacteria particularly infectious.

“Outbreaks of this nature are a threat because of the ease of international travel,” says Brian Coombes, a researcher at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR) at McMaster University.

“The infectious dose of Shigella is very low so the potential for larger outbreaks is a real concern,” he says.

Shigella, considered far more serious than bugs such as Salmonella or e.Coli, wreaks havoc on the stomach and bowels. It is particularly dangerous because it is resistant to the main drug used to treat infection, ciprofloxacin.

“This particular strain is resistant to ciprofloxacin – something that has been relatively rare in Shigella –which makes this particularly concerning, and something we need to watch carefully over the coming days and weeks,” says Coombes.

The IIDR is an international hub for innovative research into ways to discover new antibiotics, to make existing antibiotics more effective and to understand problems caused by the ways antibiotics are used in humans and animals. The institute is home to leading scientists who are developing potential solutions with high throughput equipment and growing libraries of thousands of compounds taken from the soil and from inventories of existing compounds.

Coombes is available to comment on this latest outbreak of Shigella. He can be reached at [email protected].

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