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Jul 3, 2008

Deadly Bacteria

Germs may be too small to see, but don't let their size fool you: Certain bacteria are terrifying, causing more than 100,000 American deaths each year. To make matters worse, these microorganisms tend to mutate, becoming impervious to the drugs we've developed to defeat them. How can you spot killer bacteria before they colonize, invade, and multiply?

According to the Infectious Diseases Society, these potentially lethal microbes have exhibited the most harmful drug resistance.

Drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: Resilient spherical microbes that colonize the skin or nostrils of about 20 to 30 percent of the world’s population, staph bacteria can also survive for a considerable amount of time on static surfaces, especially in warm and moist areas. The bacteria are often spread through skin contact and are harmless until they enter the bloodstream. Then they can cause infections as deadly as pneumonia, meningitis, or septicemia. Overuse of antibiotics has led to the emergence of drug-resistant forms, such as methicillin-resistant Staphlyococcous aureus (MRSA), which can be treated with vancomycin, though recent strains that are less responsive to that antibiotic have surfaced. To protect yourself against MRSA, which causes 19,000 deaths annually according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wash your hands frequently, use antibiotics properly, avoid sharing items that come in contact with the skin, and keep wounds clean and covered.

E. Coli: Commonly found in the lower intestine of humans and other animals, most E. coli strains are harmless, but certain strains, such as O157:H7, can cause life-threatening conditions such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (often requiring a blood transfusion and kidney dialysis), especially in young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. The O157:H7 strain is linked to the 2006 E. coli outbreak of fresh spinach in the United States. Fortunately, the likelihood of O157:H7 transmission can be reduced by carefully cleaning fruits and vegetables, thoroughly cooking meat, and washing your hands after using the bathroom.

Acinetobacter baumannii: Because it’s extremely drug-resistant and able to exist at numerous temperatures and pH levels, this bacterium poses a palpable threat in hospitals, where a majority of the people affected contract the bug. As with MRSA, A. baumanni is especially dangerous to people who are already ill. Causing pneumonia, meningitis, and blood and wound infections, it has a mortality rate as high as 75 percent. A. baumannii infections are often treated with polymyxins or imipenem, an antibiotic that carries a risk of seizures.