More than 90,000 Americans get potentially deadly infections each year from a drug-resistant staph "superbug," the government reported in its first overall estimate of invasive diseases caused by the germ.
Deaths tied to these infections may exceed those caused by AIDS, said one public health expert commenting on the new study. Tuesdays report shows just how far one form of the staph germ has spread beyond its traditional hospital setting.
Researchers found that only about one-quarter involved hospitalized patients. However, more than half were in the health care system - people who had recently had surgery or were on kidney dialysis, for example. Open wounds and exposure to medical equipment are major ways the bug spreads.
In recent years, the resistant germ has become more common in hospitals and it has been spreading through prisons, gyms and locker rooms, and in poor urban neighborhoods.
An invasive form of the disease is being blamed for the death Monday of a 17-year-old Virginia high school senior. Doctors said the germ had spread to his kidneys, liver, lungs and muscles around his heart.
Most cases were life-threatening bloodstream infections. However, about 10 percent involved so-called flesh-eating disease. Some hospitals have drastically cut infections by first isolating new patients until they are screened.
The bacteria doesn't respond to penicillin-related antibiotics once commonly used to treat them, partly because of overuse. They can be treated with other drugs but health officials worry that their overuse could cause the germ to become resistant to those, too.