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Antibiotic-resistant salmonella? Not this time

February 17, 2009 | 11:28 am

There was one lucky break in the ongoing salmonella outbreak that has so far led to 637 confirmed illnesses in 44 states and may be linked to nine deaths:

The strain of salmonella involved responds to antibiotics.

Kewl9xnc Like the nasty bugs highlighted in a story in today's paper, salmonella belongs to a large category of bacteria called "gram-negative," referring to how they respond to a lab test called a Gram stain. These bacteria are especially hard to fight because they are wrapped in a double membrane and harbor enzymes that chew up many antibiotics.

Already somewhat resistant to antibiotics naturally, some of these microbes -- including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Acinetobacter baumannii -- have mutated to become resistant to almost every known treatment.

Salmonella infections usually resolve in five to seven days without antibiotics. Often they require little treatment besides liquids to replace fluids lost in diarrhea. Severe cases may require intravenous fluids.

In the rare cases in which salmonella infections spread beyond the intestines, however, antibiotics are necessary. And some salmonella strains have become resistant, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four years ago, the Infectious Diseases Society of America sounded the alarm about the dearth of new wonder drugs to treat antibiotic superbugs. The report called on Congress to provide incentives to drug companies, who find it more profitable instead to focus on therapies for high cholesterol and other chronic conditions.

Fortunately -- if anything that involves so many illnesses can be called fortunate -- there are still antibiotics that work to treat the strain of Salmonella Typhimurium involved in the ongoing outbreak, should drugs be needed. If that were not the case, public health officials say, the outbreak could be even worse than it is.

-- Mary Engel

Photo credit: AP / The Indianapolis Star, Michelle Pemberton