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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 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 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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