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The American Association for the Advancement of Science: Superbugs threaten antibiotics

A MEDICAL disaster is waiting to happen with the emergence of superbugs that are resistant to every known antibiotic drug, a leading medical microbiologist told the meeting.

Alexander Tomasz, from the Rockefeller University in New York, painted a grim picture of some of the most dangerous infectious agents running amok now they are perilously close to becoming completely drug resistant. He warned that the situation is unprecedented in late 20th century medicine. 'The appearance of drug-resistant bacteria is going to affect every aspect of medical care.'

He said there is now only one antibiotic - vanomycin - that kills all strains of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which makes wounds go septic and causes blood poisoning. It is causing havoc in hospitals where it affects patients with open wounds.

Another bacterium, Enterococcus faecium, has recently even acquired resistance to vanomycin and some medical researchers fear that the genetic trait could now pass to other more virulent strains of bacteria. 'It is also evident that these resistance mechanisms can find their way from one bacterium to another through a variety of efficient microbial gene transfer mechanisms,' Dr Tomasz added.

He said resistant superbugs are now a world-wide problem because of the ease with which people move around in the 'global village'.