After GM rice controversy, CDC finds deadly bug in India-made spray bottle

Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria cultured on sheep blood agar medium. Photo: Gak/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

  • The US CDC found that an aromatherapy spray exported from India was contaminated with Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria.
  • Burkholderia pseudomallei causes an infection called melioidosis, which is difficult to detect and difficult to treat, and is also known to have bioterrorism potential.
  • The incident follows a wider problem between India and Europe, after the latter found GM rice in a shipment marked non-GM.

bangalore: US officials have detected the presence of bacteria known to cause fatal infection in a bottle of spray made in India and sold by Walmart, The Hindu reported.

The spray is labeled “Better Homes and Gardens Lavender & Camomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones” and is aimed at aromatherapy users. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a statement on October 22 identifying the bacterial species as Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes a hard-to-detect and hard-to-treat infection called melioidosis.

Walmart stocked and sold the spray in 55 outlets, from February 2021 until October 21, when it pulled it from its shelves. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the retail giant are currently recalling the product along with five others from the same line, while the CDC plans to check whether related products may also be contaminated.

The CDC added that the spray was found in the home of a Georgia resident, who tested positive for melioidosis in July this year, and three other US residents had contracted the same infection. A genetic analysis would have revealed that the particular strain of B. pseudomallei correspond to those found in South Asia.

“The CDC has been testing blood samples from the patients, as well as soil, water and consumer products in and around the homes of the four patients since the agency began receiving samples in May. “, reads the press release.

Journalist Priyanka Pulla had written an in-depth report for Thread around 2017 B. pseudomallei. An extract:

Bacteria is… the stuff of tragedy. Her ability to affect different organs in different patients allows her to impersonate a dozen different diseases, a true Mystic among diseases (like the X-Men superhero who can transform into any other person). This discourages doctors, leading to misdiagnoses that often result in death.

Much of the misdiagnosed global burden of melioidosis is in India. Although we have reported a few hundred cases of the disease over the past quarter century, some researchers estimate the true number to be at least one. thousand times than in a single year. A 2016 article in the journal Natural microbiology projected that between 22,000 and 1.24 lakh Indians fell ill with melioidosis in 2015, while 60% succumbed to it.

These are controversial numbers, given the wide range, but researchers who Thread spoke to agree that the bottom of the projection, 22,000, is plausible.

B. pseudomallei is also recognized as a bioterrorism agent, so it is impossible that its inclusion in the contents of the spray was intentional and that the spray was contaminated during production.

This incident comes in the context of a wider issue in which the European Commission said last week that genetically modified rice had been sold in France earlier this year under the pretext that it was not genetically modified.

“The European Commission’s contamination alert prompted the recall of tons of confectionery and bakery products across Europe this summer, and raised concerns that annual rice exports from India could be affected by the allegations”. The Hindu had reported.

India’s Tamil Nadu Agricultural Research Institute asked the commission for more details about the amendment so that its scientists could search for potential sources in India. The Indian government currently does not allow the cultivation of GM rice for commercial reasons in the country.

At the same time, the Ministry of Commerce speculated that the modifications could have been introduced upwards after being transported from India, during processing on the European continent. The ministry based this possibility on an independent, certified body having inspected the shipment and certified it as non-GM, at the port of loading.

India has had a difficult relationship with product contamination, especially those capable of causing health problems. There have been two significant incidents in the recent past. One involved a cough syrup for children made by a company based in Himachal Pradesh; he killed 13 children in India last year.

The second was the local COVID-19 vaccine called Covaxin. It ran into trouble in Brazil after – among other reasons – the South American nation’s drugs regulator expressed dissatisfaction with quality control testing by its maker Bharat Biotech at a production facility in Hyderabad.

In an analysis for The science of yarn, Priyanka Pulla narrowed the problem down to two reasons: that India’s drug regulators are highly regulatory and that they have “taken a soft stance on substandard drugs that puts the growth of the pharma industry ahead of patients’ interests.

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