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Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 13:54 GMT

Superbug kills Hong Kong woman

Antibiotic resistance is worrying doctors around the world

A middle-aged woman has become the first person in Hong Kong to die from a superbug which is resistant to all available antibiotics.

The middle-aged woman, who had cancer, was admitted to hospital last year with a high fever.

She died two weeks later, but the case has only just been publicised.

Doctors around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the rise of so-called superbugs which are resistant to antibiotics.

Hong Kong officials say they are looking into long-term measures for protecting people from the bugs.

The woman was infected with a strain of the Staphlyococcus aureus bug.

She was treated with the most powerful antibiotics available, including vancomycin - currently the last line of resistance against the bacteria.

However, the bug failed to respond.

A specialist at Hong Kong university said it was unlikely the bug would spread to the general population, but there were concerns about a possible outbreak in the hospital.

Hong Kong has been hit by a number of health scares in the last few years, most notably concerns about a new strain of avian flu.

The strain raised fears of a global flu pandemic, but was contained after a mass slaughter of chickens thought to be carrying the virus.

Very disturbing

The UK's Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), which has just set up a new laboratory to monitor drug-resistant bugs both in the UK and around the world, says the new case could be "very disturbing".

Dr David Livermore, director of the PHLS laboratory, said methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was the most common superbug in the UK.

[ image: The case is Hong Kong's first of vancomycin resistant bacteria]
The case is Hong Kong's first of vancomycin resistant bacteria
But, although it did not respond to some antibiotics, others were still effective, including vancomycin.

But Japan, the USA and France had noted cases of vancomycin-resistant S. aureus.

However, all but one of these had eventually responded to a cocktail of other antibiotics.

Dr Livermore said UK hospitals would refer cases which were resistant to antibiotics to the PHLS.

It would conduct its own tests and may recommend synerdic and linezolid, drugs in advanced trials, if licensed drugs proved ineffective.

These have proved promising against Staphylococci infections, said Dr Livermore, and can be provided on compassionate grounds.


The PHLS co-operated with a government report last year which raised concerns about the dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics.

Overprescription and failure to finish courses of drugs are considered among the main reasons for the rise of superbugs.

The government report recommends a national education campaign be set up to explain to patients that they should not expect antibiotics when they go to their GP.

It also said that GPs should not prescribe antibiotics for conditions caused by viruses, such as coughs and colds since they are effective only against bacterial illnesses

Worldwide, a range of infections, including pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis and typhoid, have developed resistance to some antibiotics in recent years.

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