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Antibiotic Resistance in Healthy Adults

Misuse of Antibiotics Leads to Increased Amounts of Resistant 'Super' Bugs
WebMD Health News

Oct. 9, 2003 -- The public has turned a deaf ear on warnings about antibiotic overuse. But antibiotic-resistant staph infections are on the rise, and it's happening in otherwise healthy people. In fact, four children have died.

Several new studies address this issue -- pointing to people's misconceptions about antibiotic resistance and their own risk.

The reports are being presented at the annual Infectious Diseases Society of America meeting in San Diego this week.

One serious problem: Commonly called staph infection, Staphylococcus aureus used to be found mostly in hospitals and was easily treated with antibiotics. But since the mid-1980s, staph has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics and has shown up outside of hospitals.

As infections with these resistant bacteria increase in frequency, doctors become more and more limited in their options to treat them.

"It's happening throughout the country," says Stuart H. Cohen, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine and Medical Center, in a news release. "It's probably been smoldering for years, but recently, it's almost like a switch got triggered. ... It rings a warning bell that physicians and patients need to address antibiotic resistance head-on."

It's potentially life threatening: Four healthy children who contracted resistant bacteria died because doctors did not realize the seriousness of the infection. The children didn't get appropriate treatment in time.

Risk factors for children include having a family member who is hospitalized, being in day care, or having taken many antibiotics, experts say.

Understanding Staph

Actually, many people have staph bacteria "colonized" -- living naturally -- in their bodies yet don't feel any ill effects from it, according to the CDC. But if these people get cut or get a cold, -- anything that shakes up their immunity -- a staph infection can set in.

Others who do not carry staph bacteria can also get infected if exposed to it. These infections may be caused by antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria.

Many of these antibiotic-resistant staph infections can cause deep skin infections and create an abscess that needs to be surgically drained. When staph bacteria are determined to be resistant to the antibiotic methicillin, doctors have to decide which other antibiotic to prescribe -- some are given intravenously, while others are very expensive.

The antibiotic vancomycin is very good in treating methicillin-resistant staph infections. "But we're very worried that if we use it a lot, we'll start seeing resistance to it," says researcher Gloria P. Heresi, MD, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at The University of Texas Medical School in Houston, in the news release.

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