BOSTON – An infectious-disease nightmare is unfolding: A new gene that can turn many types of bacteria into superbugs resistant to nearly all antibiotics has sickened people in three states and is popping up all over the world, health officials reported Monday.

The US cases and two others in Canada all involve people who had recently received medical care in India, where the problem is widespread. A British medical journal revealed the risk last month in an article which described dozens of cases in Britain in people who had gone to India for medical procedures.

How many deaths the gene may have caused is unknown; there is no central tracking of such cases. So far, the gene has mostly been found in bacteria that cause gut or urinary infections.

"It's a great concern," because drug resistance has been rising and few new antibiotics are in development, said Dr. M. Lindsay Grayson, director of infectious diseases at the University of Melbourne  in Australia. "It's just a matter of time" until the gene spreads more widely person-to-person, he said.

Grayson heads an American Society for Microbiology conference in Boston, which was buzzing with reports of the gene, called NDM-1 and named for New Delhi.

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