Now public health officials in the Midwest are facing an emerging problem with staph -- a drug-resistant strain has officially left the hospital and is infecting people in the general community.
"We want to emphasize for parents that there's no cause for panic," Dr. Tim Naimi of the Minnesota Department of Health.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, in the past three years, more than 200 people in Minnesota and North Dakota have become sick from staph infections. Four children have died.
The victims were a 7-year-old black girl and a 13-year-old white girl from Minnesota, and a 16-month-old Native American girl and a 12-month-old white boy from North Dakota. The children were nowhere near any hospitals and had no contact with anyone who was.
"We're very concerned about these cases, but we also know that this is rare," said Dr. Julie Gerberding of the Centers for Disease Control.
Still, the report is a concern to infectious disease specialists who say it's another sign of how often antibiotics fail and how quickly the bacteria are evolving to resist them.
"Why it's changing we don't know except that we can say that over the years this organism has successfully adapted to the measures that we've taken to try to control it," said Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, an infectious disease specialist.
When penicillin was developed in the 1940's, it wiped out the majority of staph infections. Now the antibiotic is almost never used to treat staph because it no longer works.
"One would assume that these changes are in response to our widespread use of antibiotics and perhaps our overuse of antibiotics," Dr. Jacobs said.
There still are a few antibiotics that will wipe out even drug-resistant strains of staph. One, called vancomycin, may have helped the four infected children if used in time. But even that drug is losing its power, doctors say, and it's just a matter of time until it doesn't work at all.
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