Staph Defeats A Mighty Opponent

Microscope on staphylococcus bacteria, 5-29-97

The Centers for Disease Control is reporting what is a medical first: a bacterial staph infection that is fully resistant to vancomycin, a usually powerful antibiotic. CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports strains of the bacteria have been found to be partially resistant to the drug in the past, but now, vancomycin has been found to be completely powerless in the case of a dialysis patient who developed an infection near the catheter site.

While doctors were eventually able to successfully treat the patient with Zyvox and Synercid, the failure of the first drug is viewed as yet another watershed moment in terms of antibiotic resistance.

"We should not be shocked," says Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, who like many infectious disease specialists believed this day was bound to come. "But it really is quite unfortunate, because this drug has lasted us for 15 or 20 years and now it's gone by the wayside and we're sort of running out of ideas of how to concoct new drugs."

The bacterium staphylococcus aureous is the most common cause of hospital infections and sickens over two million people a year. If staph infects the blood or the respiratory system, it can be deadly.

Because staph is resistant to many antibiotics, doctors have long relied on vancomycin as the drug of last resort. Experts say the problem is that doctors also often overused the drug.

Doctors are being warned that more recently developed antibiotics, such as Zyvox and Synercid, could also run into trouble if they are over-prescribed.

"If we don't use these correctly," says Jacobs, "it's only a matter of time before staph will probably become resistant to them as well."

The CDC has sent a team to investigate and says disease control procedures are in place. This may be just one case - but experts believe it is unlikely to be the last.