Hospitals Key to Spread of Drug-Resistant Superbug

Antibiotic-resistant strains of the superbug Klebsiella pneumoniae, a pathogen that can cause respiratory and bloodstream infections in humans, are spreading throughout European hospitals.

This is according to a new study by the UK’s Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Certain strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae are resistant to the carbapenem antibiotics that can be the last resort in treating infections. This means they are therefore regarded as “extremely drug resistant”. Once carbapenems are no longer effective against bacteria, there are few options left for treating them.

According to the Wellcome Sanger Institute, infants, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

Hospitals facilitating the spread

Dr Sophia David, first author of the study, said that “in the case of carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, our findings imply hospitals are the key facilitator of transmission”.

She added that “over half of the samples carrying a carbapenemase gene were closely related to others collected from the same hospital, suggesting that the bacteria are spreading from person-to-person primarily within hospitals”.

Dr David and her colleagues identified a small number of genes that can cause resistance to carbapenem antibiotics. The genes produce enzymes known as carbapenemases, which “chew up” the antibiotics.

The researchers explained that they think the heavy use of antibiotics in hospitals “favours the spread” of the highly drug-resistant bacteria, which win over strains that are more easily treated with antibiotics.

What is Klebsiella pneumoniae?

Klebsiella pneumoniae is a form of bacteria that lives normally in our intestines. It is harmless when restricted to the intestines, but if they spread to another part of the body, they can cause severe infections.

The risk of infection is higher if you are unwell, making hospitals a key breeding ground for the superbug. You are more at risk of infection if you have been taking antibiotics on a long-term basis, which have resulted in a weakened immune system.

It can infect the lungs, bladder, brain, liver, eyes, blood and any wounds. The symptoms and treatment of the infection depend on its location.

Klebsiella pneumoniae was responsible for the deaths of 2,094 people in 2015. This is a huge six-fold increase from the 341 deaths recorded in 2007.

Tackling the problem

Professor Hajo Grundmann, co-lead author, said: “We are optimistic that with good hospital hygiene, which includes early identification and isolation of patients carrying these bacteria, we can not only delay the spread of these pathogens, but also successfully control them.”

If you have suffered a superbug infection in a hospital – from MRSA to Klebsiella pneumoniae – you may be able to get justice for the suffering you have experienced. First4Lawyers can help you make a medical negligence compensation claim.

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