"The patients who got hit with this bug were already gravely ill," he says. "But when vancomycin, which is the nuclear weapon of antibiotics, doesn't work -- we may look back and decide this strain was the watershed event." Not that no one's working on Plan B; several genetics companies have mapped out the bug's genome but haven't shared it with the scientific community. They're hoping to make some money off it first. And the Senate will hold hearings this week on the underfunded U.S. bacterium fighters, who currently get about the same government support as asteroid watchers. But don't worry: If there hasn't been a movie about it -- and it doesn't have a catchy name like Y2K -- it can't be too important.
HONG KONG: There's a new doomsday bug in town, and the computer geeks are powerless. Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA), a bacterium resistant to all known antibiotics, has turned up in Hong Kong, killing a middle-aged cancer patient after two weeks of fruitless treatment. It's the sixth occurrence of the superbug since its discovery in Japan in 1997, and it has doctors wondering anew whether the antibiotic Armageddon -- brought on by five decades of overprescription and panacea status -- is finally nigh. TIME science writer Dick Thompson says this may indeed be the beginning of the end, but only history will know for sure.