- A bacterium resistant to most antibiotics has been found
outside hospitals, raising fears that so-called superbugs may be leaving
their usual breeding grounds and affecting the population at large.
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is
unaffected by most antibiotics - only
vancomycin is powerful enough to
- However, infection has only
ever occurred in hospitals
before and its appearance among native
American communities has alarmed
- There have been several
instances of MRSA evolving into
a bacterium resistant to vancomycin, a
development some specialists have
said marks the end of the era of
- Half Affected
- Teams from the Indian
Health Service in New Mexico, the
Centers for Disease Control - which
monitors antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- and the Minnesota health
department found the bug in Minnesota among
native Americans living in
- Bacteria develop resistance after long-term exposure
antibioticsThey checked 112 patients with Staphylococcus aureus infections
and found that 62 of them had the methicillin-resistant form.
- Only 16 of them had
been in a hospital or care centre,
or had any of the other risk factors
for an antibiotic-resistant infection,
leading the researchers to
conclude the bacteria were at large in the community.
- There have been previous
accounts of infection occurring
in the community -in Chicago and Canada
- but these have been isolated
- Barbara Murray, a specialist in
infectious diseases at
the University of Texas, said MRSA was no longer
a problem isolated in
- "This reports it in rural
American Indian communities
- so it is out there in the real
world," she said.
- MRSA usually lives harmlessly
in humans, either on their
skin or in their nostrils.
- However, if it gets
into the blood stream it can cause
blood poisoning or
- Bacteria are more likely to develop resistance to antibiotics
in hospitals because they contain patients who take antibiotics for long
periods, sometimes months.
- In this time, some bacteria are bound to survive, and
- because these are genetically predisposed to resist the antibiotic -
they multiply and evolve into a resistant form.
- Dr Barry Cookson, of the UK's
Public Health Laboratory
Service, said there was always an increased
risk of transmission in close-knit
- "Coughs and sneezes spread
diseases - get enough
people together and it will get passed
around," he said.
- This was why hospitals and nursing homes were natural
breeding grounds for resistant strains of bacteria.
- But another well-recorded problem was that of the
people in Western Australia, many of whom were infected with
- Because their communities were so closely knit, the bug
found a strong breeding ground and in some cases was transferring from
the community into hospitals.
- Dr Cookson said the Minnesota study showed that
in the area would have to be careful.
- "The hospitals need to
make sure they are well prepared
for this - they need to screen people
as they come into hospitals - as
they do now when people are
transferred from nursing homes."
- The US researchers presented
their findings at the Interscience
Conference on Antimicrobial Agents
and Chemotherapy, arranged by the American