Since the early 20th century we've lived in the miraculous age of antibiotics: almost every bacterial infection that had previously killed or crippled millions of people could be cured with a simple pill. However, recent trends indicate that the age of antibiotics may be waning, and that civilization itself may be crippled if we don't discover some new strategies to combat our ancient foe.

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Indeed, a deadly form of MRSA had sprung from nowhere, picking off otherwise healthy people. The cases thrust Iqbal and his colleagues to the front lines of modern medicine''s struggle against antibiotic resistant bacteria - perhaps the nation's most daunting public health threat. No drug-defying bug has proved more persistent than MRSA, none has caused more frustration and none has spread more widely. In recent years, new MRSA strains have emerged to strike in community settings, reaching far beyond hospitals to infect schoolchildren, soldiers, prison inmates, even NFL players.

A USA TODAY examination finds that MRSA infections, particularly outside of health care facilities, are much more common than government statistics suggest. They sicken hundreds of thousands of Americans each year in various ways, from minor skin boils to deadly pneumonia, claiming upward of 20,000 lives. The inability to detect or track cases is confounding efforts by public health officials to develop prevention strategies and keep the bacteria from threatening vast new swaths of the population.

(HT: Paul Hsieh.)

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