New Bacteria Threaten Public Health

The above headline comes from a November 9, 2004 ABC News feature story. The feature describes a disturbing trend of new mutated bacteria that are resistant to medical attacks from antibiotics. The article focuses on one bacteria specifically known as "MRSA". This bacterium is a mutated tough new strain of staph against which most of the antibiotics in the medical arsenal are useless.

David Geffen of the School of Medicine at UCLA and chief of infectious diseases at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles notes, "The development of the MRSA problem is an example of what we're going to be facing on a regular basis." The CDC does not presently have data on the spread of MRSA, though some officials estimate there are about 100,000 MRSA-related hospitalizations each year in the US alone.

The article notes that MRSA infections are causing illness and death among high school and college athletes, school children, prison inmates, military personnel, and hospital residents and employees all groups who live in close quarters and are more likely to spread infections through physical contact or the sharing of towels, clothing, sports equipment, toys and other items.

The article notes that MRSA is not the only resistant bacteria that health officials are worried about. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that many common infectious agents have become resistant and represent an increasingly worrisome public health threat. They also note that other forms of staph and tuberculosis have also become resistant to even the strongest antibiotics and pose significant health threats.

Experts cite the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the casual use of antibiotics for everything including the flu and the common cold, against which antibiotics are useless. In addition to the overuse of antibiotics, even antibacterial soaps containing triclosan are being attributed to creating an environment where triclosan resistant bacteria can flourish. The ABC News Feature notes that even antibacterial soaps have been associated with an increase in bacteria on nurses' hands due to the skin damage these soaps can cause.

Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel Prize-winning geneticist concludes, "The future of humanity and microbes likely will unfold, as episodes of a suspense thriller that could be titled 'Our Wits Versus Their Genes.' "