Until now, antibiotics have easily killed group A streptococcus, the bacteria that cause strep throat and life-threatening septic infections, but now hospitals have seen a sudden, widespread resistance of the bacteria to widely used antibiotic erythromycin. Strep is becoming a superbug.

Doctors suspect the strep bacteria also are becoming resistant to other popular drugs in the same antibiotic family. The use of these antibiotics is growing because they require only one dose a day, compared with three for many other antibiotics. People who are allergic to penicillin rely on them.

Doctors have long warned that overuse of antibiotics is making some germs immune. Some researchers think that eating poultry and beef that is fed antibiotics may be contributing to this.

In 1998, Martin began tracking group A streptococcus at a Pittsburgh private elementary school, taking thousands of twice-a-month throat cultures from children. She found that almost half of the students had the antibiotic-resistant form of strep throat. A random check of samples from children treated for throat infections at Children?s Hospital found 38 percent had the identical resistant strain.

?It definitely went from one kid to another in the school and it also spilled over into the community,? says researcher Dr. Judith M. Martin of Pittsburgh Children?s Hospital. ?Where it started, I don?t know.?

Dr. Chris Van Beneden, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, ?It may be occurring in other places across the country.?

Dr. Lincoln P. Miller, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, says, ?This is an important article because it indicates the impact of our antibiotic use on the bacteria around us. I would hazard a guess and say [this resistance is] fairly widespread.?

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