STAPH: Four Deaths 1st to Be Reported Outside Hospitals
Four children in Minnesota and North Dakota died in the past two years after becoming infected with a drug-resistant staphylococcus aureus germ -- the first U.S. staph-related fatalities to be reported outside of hospitals or nursing homes, according to the CDC. Two hundred others became infected with the bacteria but did not die, according to a report in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Staph bacteria, which commonly exist on the skin and nostrils and are typically harmless unless they enter the bloodstream through a cut or scrape, have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics in the past few decades, and now are generally vanquished only by powerful drugs such as vancomycin. However, physicians who treated the four children "did not realize quickly enough that the children needed such strong medication." The children ranged in age from one to 13, were racially diverse and came from both rural and urban backgrounds, suggesting "that the germ is widespread across the region," said Dr. Tim Naimi, the CDC epidemiologist who investigated the outbreak. Naimi noted that none of the four had visited a hospital or nursing home and that the bacteria appeared to be of a slightly different strain than that typically found in hospitals, suggesting the bug "did not escape from the hospital, but rather mutated in the environment" (Stolberg, New York Times, 8/20). Calling the four cases the "tip of an epidemiologic iceberg," Naimi said the deaths are "more evidence that the bacteria are adapting, and excessive use of antibiotics is likely at the root of this problem. ... While some antibiotic use if essential, a lot of it -- for example, in treatment of colds and bronchitis -- is not helpful and, in fact, harmful" (Schmickle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.