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Supergerm Ignores Strongest
Antibiotics - Kills Woman
Feb 23, 1999 (Associated Press)
Ho Po-on, a medical technologist
at Hong Kong's Queen Mary Hospital, holds up a culture of the bacteria
staphylococcus aureus that has proven resistant to one of the most potent
antibiotics available. The supergerm has killed a woman
in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/K.Y.Cheng/South China Morning Post) HONG KONG (AP)
-- A supergerm that has proven resistant to one of the most potent antibiotics
available has killed a Hong Kong woman, officials said today, raising fears
that more such germs could develop as doctors continue to misuse or overuse
The middle-aged woman died last
year at Queen Mary Hospital after becoming infected with a strain of staphylococcus
aureus bacteria, or staph, despite two weeks of intensive antibiotics treatment,
a spokeswoman from the official Hospital Authority said.
Speaking on customary condition
of anonymity, the spokeswoman confirmed a report published today in the
South China Morning Post. The hospital declined to reveal the patient's
identity. The woman, who also suffered from cancer, was one of a few known
cases in the world in which staph proved resistant to vancomycin,
an antibiotic known as "the silver bullet," which doctors use as
the last resort to treat infections when all other antibiotics fail.
"We are getting into the terminal
stage. It is very dangerous; the bacteria have broken the last defense,"
Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the hospital and the University of
Hong Kong, was quoted as telling the newspaper.
For several years, doctors have
been warning of the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. Bacteria become
more deadly as they mutate to survive increasing potent drugs.Yuen told
the Post that a decade earlier, Hong Kong doctors discovered a case of
streptococcus pneumonia that was resistant to penicillin, but now 70 percent
of the cases here are resistant.
Many doctors fear the time is
coming when some patients will have no alternative antibiotics to
turn to -- for the first time since antibiotics hit the market in the 1950s.
Part of the problem is an overwillingness on the part of doctors and patients
to use antibiotics for routine illnesses that could be cured by people's
natural immune systems, which makes the medicines less effective.
Patients "should not seek antibiotics
for a quick cure," Yuen said.
Staph, a virulent bacterium that
lives on human skin, is a common cause of infections. Many people have
the germ, and it's usually harmless. But the germ can occasionally enter
the body through wounds and cause serious infections of the skin, soft
tissues, bones and joints. It spreads through direct contact and can cause
pneumonia and fatal bacteremia, or bacterial infection of the blood, which
reportedly killed the woman in Hong Kong.
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