Dr. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota's state epidemiologist who took part in the investigation, said, "The fact that we now see emergence of ciprofloxacin resistance in this bacterium is very troubling. This underscores the importance of using antibiotics appropriately, so we don't overuse them."
Lynfield said health officials are worried about a repeat of the experience with gonorrhea, in which antibiotic resistance spread quickly after it first occurred. "We do think that it is related to overuse of antibiotics in the community," she said.
A vaccine against meningitis is available, but it is not effective against all strains of the bacteria, she said.
Antibiotics should be used only against bacterial infections -- not viral infections, including the common cold -- and only when prescribed by a doctor, Lynfield said.
"We all have a role in safeguarding these advanced antibiotics, because we are rapidly losing the tools in our toolbox," she said.
Learn more about meningitis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Henry M. Wu, M.D., U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic intelligence service, Atlanta; Ruth Lynfield, M.D., state epidemiologist, Minnesota Department of Health, St. Paul; Feb. 26, 2009, New Engand Journal of Medicine
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