Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Font Size

Super Bugs Pose Bigger Threat than SARS

Antibiotic Resistance Reaching Dangerous New High

WebMD Health News

April 30, 2003 (New York) -- New viruses like the one that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) may grab headlines as they emerge, but it's the growing number of good old-fashioned bacteria that are now resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics that pose the larger threat to the general public, according to infectious disease experts.

Common illnesses, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sexually transmitted diseases, that are caused by bacteria were once easily treatable with antibiotics but have now become increasingly deadly due to antibiotic resistance.

"We're even running out of drugs to treat our most common infections. Not just less common hospital-based infections," says Neil Fishman, MD, director of the department of healthcare epidemiology and infection control at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.

Fishman says antibiotic-resistant "super bugs" cause an estimated 19,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, compared with only 372 deaths worldwide that have been attributed to SARS since the outbreak began six months ago.

Fishman spoke today at a roundtable about antibiotic resistance in New York organized by the Infectious Diseases of Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, and the Society of Infectious Disease Pharmacists.

Experts at the meeting say too little action is being taken to curb the mushrooming problem of antibiotic resistance, which makes currently available antibiotics powerless against previously treatable infections. Antibiotic-resistant super bugs are created when bacteria develop genetic traits that make them withstand treatment with antibiotic drugs.

Although antibiotic resistance has been around since the discovery of antibiotics more than 60 years ago, the problem has grown exponentially in recent years due to a combination of factors that Fishman calls a "perfect storm."

For example, E. coli is the most common cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones (including Cipro and others) are the primary drugs used to treat UTIs. But Fishman says the number of fluoroquinolone-resistant UTIs seen by his hospital alone grew from 6% in 2000 to 16% in 2002.

Factors contributing to this rapid growth of antibiotic resistance include the overuse of powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat common infections, such as ear infections, and the misuse of antibiotics in situations where they are not appropriate, such as treating viral infections like the common cold.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

man coughing
You may not even know you have it.
blood clot
Signs of this potentially fatal complication.
man coughing
When a cold becomes bronchitis.
human lungs
Causes behind painful breathing, fluid buildup.

chest x-ray
Bronchitis Overview
Copd Myth Fact Quiz
Energy Boosting Foods

woman coughing
Lung xray and caduceus