Bacteria are winning, and infectious disease doctors are worried. Disease-causing microbes are increasingly able to defeat the best antimicrobial drugs available. No "superbug" has yet emerged, resistant to all antibiotics and therefore untreatable. But that day may not be too far off.

"There's increasing panic among infectious disease specialists,'' admits Jonathan Blum, a clinician and researcher at Harvard Medical School.

Particularly worrisome to those specialists is a strain known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which occurs widely in hospitals and is resistant to all antibiotics save one, vancomycin. Staph aureus is a common skin bacterium that can cause deadly infections when it enters the body, such as after surgery. Recently, a few cases of MRSA that show intermediate resistance to vancomycin have appeared. If true resistance develops, Staph aureus infections might be uncurable, and therefore fatal.

As multiply resistant pathogenic microbes become more common, development of antibiotics has lagged...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?