Microbiologists say a new family of super bug resistant to nearly all antibiotics is spreading here and poses a "serious and urgent threat".

An article published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal says bacteria known as CPE pose an immediate threat to modern healthcare, as treatment options are "extremely limited or non-existent".

CPE are bacteria that produce an enzyme that deactivates a crucial class of antibiotics called carbapenems.

The genes that confer antibiotic resistance are easily spread between several species and strains of bacteria, particularly in hospital environments.


It was likely that CPE would become resistant to all known antibiotics "in the near future", the article's authors said.

They are calling for DHBs and hospitals to develop a nationally-coordinated response plan to deal with the threat.

In New Zealand most people with CPE are believed to have been infected overseas, especially on the Indian subcontinent.

But specialist in clinical microbiology Dr Joshua Freeman told Newstalk ZB there were now several cases of probable secondary spread in hospitals.

Freeman said the way to address it was to try and identify people who may be carrying the bacteria and put in place measures to prevent further spread.

People who carry CPE may have them only for about three to six months, he said.

Patients undergoing procedures such as transplants or cancer treatment are particularly reliant on antibiotics and are most affected by the threat of CPE.