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Categories: Super Bug

(CNN)The number of cases of an emerging and often multidrug-resistant fungus in the United States has grown from seven to 122 over the past nine months, according to a field report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After a rash of mild cases in early 2011, doctors began seeing highly drug-resistant infections in patients, said Dr Megan Clancy, an infectious-disease specialist at the Anchorage, Alaska, hospital. And the bacteria was attacking more patients than just the severely ill ones who are the usual victims of drug-resistant “superbugs.”

Clancy took emergency measures. Infected patients were isolated. Staff and visitors had to adhere to strict hand-washing and other infection-control protocols. Furniture and equipment were scrubbed to remove a microbe that can stubbornly persist on all sorts of surfaces.

Clancy also contacted outside researchers for help. They found that a strain of the bacteria had acquired a rare combination of traits. Bacteria typically are either highly resistant to drugs or highly virulent. This strain was both. Doctors quickly burned through the antibiotics used as the second and third lines of defense against superbugs. This strain shook them off.

Eventually, they turned to colistin. This powerful antibiotic was largely abandoned in the 1960s for its toxic side effects. Out of necessity, it has become in recent years a weapon of last resort against the worsening superbug scourge.

“It’s the worst of all possible worlds: You have a bacteria that is good at establishing infection, and it can’t be treated with antibiotics,” said Dr Robert Clifford, a microbiologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who studied the outbreak.

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