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 antibiotics.
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
"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
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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