Public health officials term it an "emergency" -- the spread of "superbugs," drug-resistant bacteria that can cause lethal staph infections.
Drug-Resistant "Super Bacteria" Is Public Health "Emergency"
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
Tonight, a teenager in Virginia is dead, his family says the result of a staph infection that resists antibiotics. And tonight, 21 schools are closed because of it, and across this country tonight, the awareness of this danger is now on the rise because it can be a scary, indiscriminate and silent killer. It's often discovered when it's too late. So we'll begin here tonight with our chief science correspondent Robert Bazell.
ROBERT BAZELL reporting:
Today's study finds that a super drug-resistant infection has become so common so quickly that public health officials are calling it an emergency. The infection is staph, a type of bacteria often found on the skin.
Dr. VANCE FOWLER (Duke University Medical School): In many way, this convergence of factors is sort of a perfect bacterial storm.
BAZELL: The strain is called MSRA, resistant to most antibiotics. The CDC study found that the strain, unknown a few decades ago, now infects almost 100,000 Americans a year and kills 18,000, more than AIDS.
Dr. GREGORY MORAN (University of California Los Angeles Medical Center): I don't think anybody really knows why this has become so prevalent so quickly.
BAZELL: They do know that the infection that at first was confined mostly to hospitals is now spreading, appearing in day care centers, schools and other crowded environments. There are often no symptoms, or minor ones that seem like spider bites or boils. The Los Angeles County Jail has had major outbreaks in recent years, frightening the staff.
Deputy Sheriff RYAN JORGENSEN (Los Angeles County Jail): You definitely don't want to take something like that home to your family, wife, kids, husbands, things like that.
BAZELL: The big danger comes when the bacteria move back from the community into the hospital where they put people at risk who are already sick and highly vulnerable.
Ms. KAY HILL: Ray's a monster.
Unidentified Man: Yeah, Ray's a monster.
BAZELL: Kay Hill got an MSRA blood infection that almost killed her.
Ms. HILL: I could not walk, period.
Unidentified Woman: This right here is a culture of staph aureus.
One major solution: Hospitals are becoming far more aware of the danger, constantly monitoring for superbugs. But the major defenses against the danger, in the hospital and elsewhere, are still the old-fashioned ones: cleaning instruments, washing hands often and cutting down on nonessential uses of antibiotics. Robert Bazell, NBC News, Louisville.
The modern medical era began when an absent-minded British scientist named Alexander Fleming returned from vacation to find that one of the petri dishes he forgot to put away was covered in a bacteria-killing mold. He had discovered penicillin, the world's first antibiotic.