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Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria — rod-shaped bacteria in this tinted, scanning electron microscope image — are found in soil, water and as normal flora in the human intestine. But they can cause serious wound, lung, skin and urinary tract infections, and many pseudomonas strains are drug-resistant. Source: Science Photo Library

Five years ago, Mary Millard went to the hospital for heart surgery. A contaminated medical instrument gave her an infection that led to septic shock. Her heart struggled and her lungs and kidneys started to fail.

"What I caught was pseudomonas, and it's a very virulent superbug," says the 60-year-old former nurse who lives in Baton Rouge, La. This bacterium no longer responds to most antibiotics, and "it lives in you permanently, so I'm on lifetime antibiotics," she says.

Her doctor prescribed one of the most powerful antibiotics available, and there is no clear backup for her if that stops working. "It's kind of a wait-and-see. And that's what's scary."

Millard is just one of about 2 million Americans who have been infected with

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