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Dangerous Bacteria May be Resistant to Major Antibiotics - 2003-03-10


Today, new evidence of a growing problem: drug-resistant bacteria that are difficult to treat. In a new study published in the Journal “Nature Medicine,” researchers predict that dangerous strains of streptococcus could be resistant to two major antibiotics by summer next year. According to the study, misuse of antibiotics may be the cause.

Carole Pearson has this report.

The Harvard University study found that two of the most commonly used antibiotics, penicillin and erythromycin, are losing their power against streptococcus pneumoniae. This type of bacterium is the one that causes a wide range of illnesses from meningitis to ear infections, as well as many cases of pneumonia every year.

DR. ANGELO COSTAS, NORTHWESTERN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
"When you start seeing this double resistance that's when things are really starting to get more concerning because what you're already seeing you're losing the arsenal in terms of what you can use."

Researchers say the antibiotics are becoming less effective because the bacteria mutate to resist the drugs. They say over-prescribing the medications is a big part of the problem. And patients who don't complete the full course of treatment are also to blame.

DR. STUART LEVY, TUFTS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
"We are creating, without knowing it, our own kinds of weapons of mass destruction. That is, those that can take lives because we can't treat them."

In one example last year, this woman's leg became infected with a bacterium resistant to Vancomycin, the strongest antibiotic. Doctors were able to save her life but they were forced to seal an entire wing of this hospital as a precaution.

NATURAL SOUND, HEALTH PROFESSIONAL TALKING ABOUT A STUDY

The study recommends doctors to make sure a patient is suffering a bacterial infection and not a viral one, before prescribing antibiotics. They also encourage vaccines against streptococcus pneumoniae for infants and older people, the groups most likely to get the infection.

Researchers say some current alternatives are too powerful for children and still there are just a few antibiotics in development. They forecast penicillin and erythromycin will be powerless to cure 41 percent of all ear infections, pneumonia and meningitis cases by next summer.

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