Surprise! - not good news
A dangerous germ easily mistaken for an innocuous one has become alarmingly common around the United States, raising concern that seemingly minor boils, pimples and abscesses could increasingly become disfiguring or even life-threatening, researchers reported yesterday.
Because the microbe has become invulnerable to the most commonly used antibiotics, the discovery means doctors should now routinely test all skin infections to identify patients who need urgent treatment with one of the handful of drugs still capable of killing the aggressive pathogen, experts said....
"This is just another sign that, unfortunately, the bugs are winning," said Loren G. Miller of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the lead author of a companion paper describing 14 cases of people stricken by "flesh-eating" cases of the infection.
The microbe is a strain of the ubiquitous bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which usually causes well-known "staph" infections that are easily treated with common antibiotics in the penicillin family, such as methicillin and amoxicillin.
In recent years, small outbreaks of infections with a strain that is impervious to those antibiotics have been reported among athletes, inmates, children and other groups, but otherwise resistant staph strains had been almost exclusively limited to hospitals.
"We're used to resistant staph in the hospital as a problem among patients with heart failure, liver failure, cancer or other health problems," said David N. Gilbert of the Oregon Health & Science University. "It's started attacking normal healthy people, causing serious, often fatal illness."
The germ, which is spread by casual contact, produces potent toxins that kill disease-fighting white blood cells. That rapidly turns minor rug burns, cuts and other skin infections into serious health problems, apparently including "necrotizing" abscesses that eat away tissue. Previously, such cases were thought to be caused only by strep bacteria.
"This has now become a significant problem in this country," said Donald M. Poretz, an infectious-disease expert at Georgetown University who serves as president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "We see dozens of these cases in our offices."
The resistant strain probably emerged because of the overuse of antibiotics. Public health officials have become increasingly concerned about this trend, especially because little work is underway to develop a new generation of antibiotics.
Experts are also concerned that the shrinking number of effective antibiotics may also be slowly losing their power.
"What people are concerned about is that we'll be losing these drugs one by one until we don't have any effective ones left," said Walter E. Stamm, president of the Infectious Disease Society of America.
Right. So, don't get sick.
And, p.s., this is still happening:
International health workers in Angola say they are still struggling to end an outbreak of the Marburg virus, which has killed 156 people in the southern African nation.