Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Common bacteria becoming antibiotic-resistant superbugs
Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria frequently implicated in respiratory and urinary infections in hospital settings could easily spread from one geographic region to another, shows a new study led by an Indian-origin scientist.
 
The study published online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases showed that two genes that confer resistance against a particularly strong class of antibiotics can be shared easily among a family of bacteria.
 
"I do not think it is overstating the case to say that for certain types of infections, we may be looking at the start of the post-antibiotic era, a time when most of the antibiotics we rely on to treat bacterial infections are no longer effective," said senior author Gautam Dantas, associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
 
The researchers studied a family of bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae, which includes E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Enterobacter.
 
Drug-resistant germs in this family of bacteria recently infected several patients at two Los Angeles hospitals.
 
The infections have been linked to medical scopes believed to have been contaminated with bacteria that can resist carbapenems, potent antibiotics that are supposed to be used only in gravely ill patients or those infected by resistant bacteria.
 
Two genes are primarily responsible for carbapenem-resistant versions of these disease-causing bacteria.
 
One gene, KPC, was detected in New York in 2001 and quickly spread around most of the world, with the exception of India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries.
 
A second carbapenem resistance gene, NDM-1, was identified in 2006 in New Delhi, India.
 
Dantas and his collaborators were curious about why the two resistance genes seemed to be geographically exclusive.
 
For the study, they compared the genomes of carbapenem-resistant bacteria isolated in the United States with those of carbapenem-resistant bacteria isolated in Pakistan.
 
The researchers found that bacteria from the two regions were not genetically different.
 
The bacteria's high genetic similarity suggests that the antibiotic resistance genes could be shared easily between bacteria from the two geographic regions, they noted.

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Vadra land deals: BJP sees massive scam; Khemka feels 'vindicated'
A day after the CAG blamed Haryana's previous Congress government for showering favours on party chief Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra, who made millions in controversial land deals, the BJP, which now rules the state, claimed a "massive scam" during the nearly 10-year tenure of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government.
 
Bureaucrat Ashok Khemka, who had questioned a land deal of Vadra, said the report "vindicated" his action but did not go deep enough, while the Congress defended the former Hooda government, saying all decisions were in accordance with the law. 
 
"The public was always convinced there was a massive scam in Haryana," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said on Thursday.
 
"It just confirms the allegations that were being made... Vadra's company was extended undue favours and he made massive gains by misusing the authorities," Rao told IANS.
 
"The Congress government had bent all rules allowing them to make windfall gains. Action will be taken by the state government, the report (of CAG) has already been tabled," he said.
 
Senior IAS officer Khemka, who was embroiled in controversy over Vadra's land deals, on Thursday tweeted: "My action in VADRA-DLF land-licence deal vindicated in CAG report, but continue to suffer the stigma of chargesheet."
 
He, however, noted there were more issues to be probed yet. "Many issues untouched in the CAG report. Cycle of corruption involved the triad - business, politics and bureaucracy," he said in another tweet.
 
The Congress on Thursday dismissed the CAG rap, claiming its government performed "purely in accordance with the law" in the land deal.
 
Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a statement that the state's principal accountant general (PAG) neither indicted the Hooda government nor Vadra or his company for any violation of the Haryana Development and Regulation of Urban Areas Act, 1975, or any rules or policy.
 
"There is no such finding of wrongdoing as is being sought to be alleged and projected unfairly and incorrectly," he said. 
 
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, tabled in the Haryana assembly on the last day of the budget session which ended on Wednesday, blamed the Hooda government for showing undue favours to Vadra.
 
Vadra's company, Skylight Hospitality, sold a prime 3.5 acre plot in Manesar, Gurgaon, to DLF in 2008 for Rs.58 crore. The land had cost his company only around Rs.15 crore and was sold to DLF after obtaining change of land use (CLU) and other permissions from the Hooda government.
 
Vadra did not share the Rs.43 crore profits with the state town and country planning department, the CAG report said.
 
The report said the "possibility of extending undue benefit to particular applicant (Vadra's company) cannot be ruled out." It also questioned the "distinction" made by the Hooda government for Vadra's company in giving permissions.
 
Khemka had ordered the scrapping of the land deal then, saying that it was illegal and alleging that Vadra's land deals caused loss of crores of rupees to the state. He also ordered a probe.
 
Later, KJhemka was transferred and served a charge sheet for his actions by the Hooda government, which gave Vadra a "clean chit".
 
"Real culprits sit in judgment over me. My pain and suffering may help to detox and cleanse the body politic," tweeted Khemka, who is now the secretary and commissioner of Haryana's transport department, without naming anyone.
 
The CAG has indicated that the Hooda government had obliged Vadra with quick sanction of the permissions required. Some other companies being favoured also figured in the CAG report.
 
The controversy became a national issue with opposition parties alleging that the then Congress government was doing everything to help Vadra in his land deals in the National Capital Region and areas around Delhi.

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Citing 26/11, US report says FBI needs to improve
Citing the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack and four other cases, a report has concluded the US FBI has made strides in the past decade but needs faster reforms to transform itself into a threat-based, intelligence-driven organisation.
 
One of the key plotters of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley "had previously come to the attention of US law enforcement authorities but FBI officials repeatedly concluded that Headley did not pose a threat at the time", the report noted.
 
"The increasingly complex and dangerous threat environment it faces will require no less," said the report by the FBI 9/11 Review Commission which studied FBI investigations into five "significant terrorism events."
 
In none of those cases did a confidential source "provide actionable intelligence to help prevent or respond to a terrorist operation", the report released Wednesday said.
 
The principal authors of the report were Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University; Edwin Meese III, the former attorney general; and Timothy J. Roemer, a former ambassador to India.
 
In December 2007, Headley's Moroccan wife complained to officials at the US embassy in Islamabad that her husband was a terrorist. But the FBI investigation of Headley did not begin until 2009, and it was triggered by a tip that originated outside the FBI that revealed his relationships with extremists abroad, the report said.
 
"One of the main lessons from the Headley case is that absent an intelligence effort across the US Intelligence Community to understand the connections among cases and complaints across field offices, relevant intelligence may fall by the wayside," it said.
 
News outlets, it noted, have reported, prior to his terrorist activities, that Headley had worked as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, following two heroin trafficking arrests.
 
"A single complaint may be more easily dismissed as a poison pen motive, but several unrelated complaints should not be dismissed as readily as the work of a malcontent," the report said.
 
"The Headley case raises the important question faced by all intelligence agencies - certainly important to the FBI - of how to scan and assess voluminous amounts of collected information strategically and identifying valuable intelligence leads," the report said.
 
"Still, more than a decade after 9/11, the FBI must prioritize empowering and equipping its analytic cadre to make these connections with cutting edge technology, to minimize the risk of the FBI missing important intelligence information," it said.
 
In the Headley case, an analyst was ultimately able to connect him to an ongoing plot in Denmark, underscoring the value of good intelligence analysis in the field to meet the FBI's national security and investigative missions, it said.
 
Describing Headley as "an elusive target," the report noted that "he conducted his activities with all the skills of a trained intelligence operative - able to travel to and from the United States, Pakistan, and India with relative ease and eluding authorities."
 
"The FBI had no knowledge of Headley's connections to Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) until provided with a tip that originated outside the FBI that prompted the investigation in 2009."
 
In Chicago, National Security Letters helped the FBI track David Headley and better understand his involvement in the Copenhagen plot directed by Ilyas Kashmiri, Al Qaeda's chief of external operations at the time and the head of the Pakistani extremist organization, Harakat ul Jihad al Islami.
 
Over the next several months, the FBI obtained warrants on Headley and on his associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani Canadian resident of Chicago.
 
Based on the information obtained, FBI special agents decided to arrest Headley before he could leave the country, the report noted.

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