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Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said they don't believe the general public should be too worried about the appearance in the United States of a gene that could make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology, published research findings last week on a gene mutation that attached itself to a bacteria in a Pennsylvania woman.

"I don't think we're surprised to find this gene," said Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. "I think, unfortunately, we'll find it more often. We are a globally connected society."

The CDC has known about the existence of the mutated gene since it was found in 2015, Bell said. It was originally found in a pig in China that year, and it since has been found in humans in China and England as well

Researchers are working to figure out whether it is the same mutation or if it's a different one, Bell said. Genetic sequencing has not finished yet.

Transfer: The discovery of the gene in the U.S. is disconcerting because it can easily transfer from one bacteria to another, creating more "superbug" diseases.

"The presence of the MCR-1 gene is concerning because it can make the bacteria resistant to last-line antibiotics," she said. "We want to be able to stop antibiotic-resistance outbreaks."

Dr. Jeffrey Miller, a CDC career epidemiology field officer who works with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said the commonwealth was notified of the patient and the gene mutation on May 24.

"The bacteria itself (E. coli) is very common," Miller said. "Common things we do every day can prevent infections, like cooking meat to the proper temperature and washing your hands."

CDC and DOH officials are still working together to investigate the exact way the woman contracted the mutated form of E. coli. Officials wouldn't release information on the woman's current condition because of Pennsylvania's patient privacy laws.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.

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