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Newer, Deadlier Version of E. coli Spreads

E.coli is one of most well-known infections. But in a growing number of cases, this common stomach bug is turning into a superbug. Tonight, CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric reports on a deadly version of E.coli - with a genetic mutation that makes it extremely hard to treat.

Tom Dukes never thought it could happen to him. He was the picture of health, an energetic 52-year-old sales executive in Lomita, Calif., who worked out four hours a day. That was until late last year, when he was rushed to the hospital in agonizing pain. An hour later he was on the operating table.

"I thought I may just be saying goodbye," Duke said. "That was my last thought." Dukes awoke to a shocking reality: surgeons had to repair a hole in his abdomen caused by a raging E.coli infection that developed after eating contaminated meat. This E.coli bacterium was more aggressive than most, because it had several genetic mutations -- making it resistant to antibiotics.

Dukes' story concerns infectious disease doctors like Brad Spellberg, author of Rising Plague.

He said these organisms are "the experts at resistance." He said more infections are starting out as bacteria, in food or other ordinary places and evolving into deadly drug-resistant superbugs.

"It is starting to move out of the hospitals and into the communities," Spellberg said.

"And what happens to those people?" Couric asked.

"They fail antibiotic therapy," Spellberg replied. "We're at a point where we may have to start admitting tens of thousands of women with simple urinary tract infections to the hospital."

"Because that infection has outsmarted the pills?"

"Yep. Because the E.coli that causes most urinary tract infections is becoming resistant."

Health officials say that resistance is growing, especially among five deadly bacteria. Virtually all of them carry genes that prevent antibiotics from working - and these genetic mutations are spreading.

Another reason for these lethal strains: the overuse of antibiotics. A recent study found more than 60 percent of antibiotics prescribed were unnecessary.

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