New York man dies after supergerm infection
April 24, 1998
staphylococcus aureus bacteria
Web posted at: 10:11 p.m. EDT (0211 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A supergerm that has proved resistant to
one of the most potent antibiotics available may have claimed
its first victim.
A man in his 70s died last month at a suburban New York
hospital after becoming infected with a strain of
staphylococcus aureus bacteria, or staph.
Because the man's family did not permit an autopsy, it's
possible he died from his kidney ailment. But his body also
had been invaded by the resistant germs -- and "it's very
likely he died from that," said Kristine Smith, a spokeswoman
for the state Health Department.
Hospitals have been on alert since last summer for the
emergence of a deadly form of antibiotic-resistant staph.
The most recent case was one of four known cases in the world
in which staph proved resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic
known as "the silver bullet."
Many people have the germ, and it's usually harmless. But
when it mutates into a strain impervious to some antibiotics,
it can be dangerous, especially to patients in hospitals,
where staph is the No. 1 cause of infections.
Drug cocktail treated patients in earlier cases
In the three other known cases, the patients all survived
after being treated with a cocktail of other antibiotics.
The first case was that of a child in Japan who became ill in
1996. Last year, another case was reported in New Jersey and
a third in Michigan.
But the New York patient's case was different. He never
received combination therapy because he died within 12 hours
of admission to the hospital. Blood culture results that
would identify the vancomycin-resistant strain of
staphylococcus take 24 to 48 hours to grow. The patient
didn't live that long.
"The organism was no longer treatable with vancomycin," said
Dr. Harold Adel of Westchester County Health Commission. "It
had developed resistance. And vancomycin was, in effect, the
last-line effective drug for this treatment."
State Health Commissioner Barbara DeBuono said the man's
death was an isolated case that posed no danger to the
public. The victim's family, hospital workers and other
patients were tested and none had contracted the deadly bug,
No threat now, but medical community concerned
But still, there is some concern. For several years, doctors
have been warning of the emergence of drug-resistant
bacteria. The problem is attributed to overuse or misuse of
An experimental French drug called Synercid could prove to be
an effective new antibiotic against the resistant bug.
In the meantime, many hospitals have restricted use of their
most potent antibiotics, isolated their sickest patients and
instructed staff members to wash their hands often.
"It's of interest and concern because it represents an
instance in which an effective antibiotic has become
ineffective in treating a common organism," Adel said.
People at greatest risk to the staph bacteria are those with
weakened immune systems, including newborn babies, the
elderly, and cancer and AIDS patients.
Even though the New York patient was at high risk and he
never got a chance to get combination antibiotic therapy,
health officials are taking no chances at further infections.
Hospitals will continue to follow strict infection control
procedures, and doctors are urged to limit their use of
antibiotics to only those cases when they are absolutely
Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore and the Associated Press
contributed to this report.