New Drug-Resistant Germ Frightens Medical Establishment

A staph germ that has resisted medicine's drug of last resort has shown up for the first time in the United States and may soon be unstoppable, the government said.

"The timer is going off," said Dr. William Jarvis, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We were concerned it would emerge here; it has emerged here; and we are concerned we're going to see it popping up in more places."

A strain of staphylococcus aureus bacteria found in a Michigan man in July showed an intermediate level of resistance to vancomycin, one step from immunity to the drug, the CDC said.

The patient, who suffered kidney failure, had been taking vancomycin for half a year for a recurring infection from an abdominal catheter used for kidney dialysis. He now is being treated with a combination of drugs, including vancomycin, Jarvis said.

The Michigan discovery came three months after a similar resistant strain was found in Japan. In May, the CDC reported that a 4-month-old Japanese infant developed staph after heart surgery a year earlier. That strain of staph also showed an intermediate resistance to vancomycin, and the baby was treated with other drugs.

Staph bacteria are the No. 1 cause of hospital infections. They are blamed for about 13% of the nation's 2 million hospital infections each year, according to the CDC. Overall, the 2 million infections kill 60,000 to 80,000 people.

-- The State, 8-22-97, p. A-11.