Revolution

Superbugs

In the first half of the twentieth century, medicine made great strides against diseases caused by bacteria. Antibiotics played a large role in eliminating or at least reducing the severity of many diseases. However, as the twentieth century closed, some bacteria began to evolve strains resistant to antibiotics in use. While developing stronger antibiotics will buy some time against drug-resistant "superbugs," life-threatening bacterial diseases are bound to stage a comeback in the next decades.

The bacterium enterococcus lives in the nasal passages and intestines of many people without causing harm, but in patients with weakened immune systems can be deadly. In recent years, strains have emerged that are resistant even to the emergency use drug vanomycin, with some patients dying of infections for lack of an available treatment. Scientist fear that enterococcus' resistance may be transferred to more virulent bacterium capable of causing epidemics. In February 1996, researchers announced that a new antibiotic, Synercid, has shown mixed effectiveness against enterococcus in emergency use testing.


Source: February 2, 1996, Boston Globe article, "New antibiotic may fight a drug-resistant 'superbug.'"