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Hospitals battle bacteria bugs resistant to drugs

Hospitals are researching solutions to bacterial drug resistance  

February 17, 1999
Web posted at: 8:06 p.m. EST (0106 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Dan Rutz

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The New England Journal of Medicine has reported the case of a man whose infection would not respond to even the most potent antibiotic -- but whose germs were eradicated after his death using a novel drug combination therapy.

Doctors say they are not yet sure whether the drug combination could work in a living patient. But that report, and another published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illustrate just how dangerous drug-resistant bacteria can be.

The CDC looked specifically at New York's major hospitals, where the incidence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria has more than doubled, leading to longer hospital stays and higher costs -- and extreme cases where no antibiotic works.

According to the study's author, Dr. Robert Rubin of the CDC, it's not just New York's problem.

"Drug-resistant staph infections are not only nationwide but worldwide," he says. "Some countries seem to be doing a better job of controlling them in hospitals than we are here in the United States, but they're in every community in the country."

"I'd love to say we're winning the war, but I don't think I can say that we're winning it," says Dr. Stephen Baum of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Beth Israel is fighting back in the lab, where bacteria taken from patients are grown in cultures and tested against antibiotics to determine if the bug beats the drug.

The microbiologists consider themselves the detectives of the hospital, pinpointing the exact cause of infectious disease so that doctors can come up with the most specific treatments. But getting it right for one patient can harm everybody else.

"If you treat someone for infectious disease, you are really potentially altering the bacteria that are in their body," Baum says. "They can then unwittingly transmit those bacteria to other people."

The problem gets worse outside the hospital when antibiotics are over-prescribed or when patients quit their medicine too soon.

And researchers have warned for more than a decade that speeding animal growth by adding common antibiotics to livestock food fosters the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, but the practice is still common today.

One of the best protections against the spread of dangerous germs at home or in the hospital is also one of the simplest -- washing hands thoroughly and often.

Mayo - Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria - Superbugs thrive in hospitals
December 7, 1998
Researchers find new, drug-resistant strain of salmonella
May 6, 1998
New York man dies after supergerm infection
April 24, 1998
Study: New compound fights drug-resistant bacteria
August 4, 1997

New England Journal of Medicine
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Continuum Health Partners - Beth Israel Medical Center, NY
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