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  • APOCALYPSE NOW:

    Bacteria run wild, defying antibiotics

    By Abigail Zuger

    A new chapter in the continuing story of antibiotic resistance is being written in doctors' offices across the country, as a group of common bacteria rapidly becomes resistant to the antibiotics that have been used to treat them for decades.

    The bacteria are called Staphylococcus aureus, or staph for short. Staph are the most common cause of skin infections like boils and can also cause lung infections, bloodstream infections and abscesses in the body's internal organs.

    In hospitalized patients, infections caused by antibiotic-resistant staph have been common for years. Among healthy people, though, antibiotic resistance in staph has not been a big problem. Since the 1970's, doctors have routinely, and successfully, treated staph infections in healthy patients with penicillin-like drugs.

    Not anymore. Office doctors who follow this practice now may find their patients getting sicker instead of better.

    Over the last year, Dr. John Gullett, an infectious disease specialist in Abilene, Tex., has grown accustomed to getting calls for help from local doctors who have used the usual antibiotics to no effect.

    One doctor treated a high school football player "built like Charles Atlas" with a standard oral antibiotic for a little boil in the groin. Even though the teenager was the picture of health, the antibiotic did not work.

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