Doctors are alarmed by the first cases of new drug-resistant 'superbugs' discovered in Hong Kong. Life-saving antibiotics, including penicillin, are also becoming almost obsolete as infections mutate and become resistant to all forms of medicine. Two-thirds of Hong Kong pneumonia and upper respiratory sufferers are immune to penicillin's powers, a dramatic rise from seven years ago when it was 100 per cent effective. This is five to 10 times worse than the US and Britain, a fact doctors cannot explain. Two cases of vancomycin-resistant eterococci (VRE) - a 'superbug' which causes intestinal infections and has become relatively common in the US - were recently found at Queen Mary Hospital. Vancomycin is considered one of the last-defence drugs and resistance is a disastrous sign, say doctors. It is also expensive and more toxic than most. One dose of vancomycin costs hundreds of dollars. When an infection does not respond to something as strong as vancomycin, doctors become alarmed. 'It's the last defence,' Dr Yuen Kwok-yung, senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Hong Kong said. 'Everybody is monitoring it, everybody is very concerned.' Both VRE cases made a recovery. One patient was found only to be a carrier, and the other inexplicably responded to a new drug, trovafloxacin, Dr Yuen said. However, even more alarming is the fact that common antibiotics such as penicillin, regarded for generations as a miracle cure, are becoming relatively useless. Dr Margaret Ip Bik-yiu microbiology lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, has found that up to 70 per cent of patients infected with streptococcus pneumonae, one of the most common causes of pneumonia and upper respiratory diseases, are resistant to penicillin. 'The worry worldwide is that it [the bacteria] then becomes resistant to the drugs we then use,' she said. Doctors would prescribe cefotaxime, for example, then move on to vancomycin. 'Resistance to this would be horrendous,' Dr Ip said. Dr Yuen added other bacteria had been building up resistance over the past year. The intestinal bacteria enterobacter was found to be resistant to the drug cefuroxime in 60 per cent of cases last year, compared with 21 per cent in 1986. Reasons given for resistance have included over-prescribing and poor hygiene among health workers.