Sunday, December 16, 2007

The latest worry for U.S. troops — a superbug

The Observer reports that U.S., U.K. and Canadian troops are bringing back a new virulent bacteria from both Afghanistan and Iraq:

The bacterium, Acinetobacter baumannii, first emerged as a “mystery infection” afflicting US service personnel returning from the war in Iraq in 2003-04. It was described by a scientific journal specialising in hospital epidemiology as the “most important emerging hospital-acquired pathogen worldwide.” The journal added that it was potentially a “major threat to public health” due to its ability to mutate rapidly and develop a resistance to all known drugs.

Although different types of acinetobacter have been known for decades in hospitals, the new “T” strain identified in the injured troops is particularly virulent and has been observed to appear in US servicemen within two hours of being admitted to a field hospital. It affects the spinal fluid, bones and lungs, causing pneumonia, respiratory failure and other complications. Equally worrying is its resilience. Extremely difficult to eliminate from medical facilities once established, the bug can survive for up to 176 days in a human host. US officials concede that, once established in the medical evacuation chain, the germ is almost impossible to stamp out.

It remains to be seen just how bad this may become, but, it doesn’t sound good to read about.