SCIENTISTS from Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences have begun research into a new superbug which resists almost all antibiotics, institute officials said yesterday.

The bacteria, believed to have originated in India and which spread to other parts of the world after people traveled there for cheaper medical services, has so far infected 170 people and killed at least five patients in Britain.

The Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that the superbug hadn't been detected on the Chinese mainland.

The institute has set up a team of experts to study the new superbug.

"It is difficult to say when we will have any new discoveries or achievements since it is a new bacterium and the research on it is still at an early stage," said Li Jun, an institute official.

The superbug is in effect a new gene called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1, which makes bacteria highly resistant to almost all antibiotics.

Local experts said bacteria resistance is inevitable, while the key is to reduce antibiotics abuse and enhance pharmaceutical research.

Dr Wang Zhen from Huashan Hospital's antibiotics institute and Shanghai bacteria resistance monitoring network, said good hospital management could reduce the spread of the superbug if it was found in China.

Hospitals are ideal breeding places for the superbug, especially intensive care units, because of the large dosage and frequent use of antibiotics.

Good hygiene practices in hospital and at home are effective in controlling and preventing the spread of the superbug, according to experts.

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