Scientists have unlocked the secrets of a deadly superbug that attacks healthy young people and can kill within 24 hours.
The news is a vital first step in attempts to find a cure for the virulent disease, PVL-MRSA, that is highly resistant to current antibiotic treatments.
Already responsible for two deaths in Britain, experts fear we are in the early stages of an epidemic that could result in a massive death toll if the superbug took hold in hospitals.
The bug generally attacks the body through open wounds and can cause necrotising pneumonia, a disease that rapidly destroys lung tissue and is lethal in 75 per cent of cases.
In 2004 it killed Richard Campbell-Smith, an 18-year-old Royal Marine, who died after scratching his legs on gorse during a training exercise in Devon. An outbreak last month at Norfolk and Norwich University hospital killed a baby and infected five others.
According to the Health Protection Agency there were 106 cases of PVL-MRSA in England and Wales in 2005 and one confirmed death from necrotising pneumonia. But researchers at the University of Texas in Houston and Lyon University in France say their new understanding of how the bug works gives them hope of heading it off before it colonises hospitals, like the basic MRSA bug before it.
Gabriela Bowden, who lead the study, told the Guardian: "We've shown that not only is PVL responsible for causing necrotising pneumonia, but it somehow also causes over-production of these other proteins which cause damage and help the infection spread.
"We now have targets to go for."
Source: Bio - Bio Technology