Superbugs resistant to most antibiotics have been uncovered in Australia hospitals

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  • Melbourne researchers have uncovered a bacteria in Victorian hospitals capable of causing near untreatable infections.
  • A global study published today in the journal Nature Microbiology found three strains that have spread globally and are resistant to nearly all antibiotics.
  • Some of the strains of S. epidermidis discovered in Europe are resistant to all known antibiotics.

Superbugs resistant to most antibiotics have been found in hospitals in Victoria.

The bacteria, called Staphylococcus epidermidis, are widely found on human skin but these new strains are resistant to almost all antibiotics.

Some of the strains found in Europe are resistant to all known antibiotics.

The Australian researchers are concerned that the use of antibiotic impregnated medical devices such as catheters may have driven the evolution of this once benign bacteria to potentially incurable infections.

Researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity announced their findings in the journal Nature Microbiology.

They looked at hundreds of S. epidermidis strains from 78 institutions in 10 countries around the world, and found three strain sub-types resistant to nearly all antibiotics.

Study author University of Melbourne Professor Ben Howden says S. epidermidis infects people who are immunocompromised or have had prosthetic materials implanted, such as catheters and joint replacements.

“The discovery of these new strains means we are now routinely using our last-line antibiotics that are expensive and toxic,” he says.

“This makes these S. epidermidis infections very costly and difficult-to-treat.”

Dr Jean Lee, Doherty Institute PhD student and first-author on the paper, was able to show that S.epidermidis made a small change in its DNA that led to resistance to two major antibiotics.

“These two antibiotics are unrelated and you would not expect one mutation to cause both antibiotics to fail,” says Dr Lee.

“Our study suggests current guidelines for treating these infections with the combination of these two antibiotics that were thought to protect one another against developing resistance are based on an incorrect assumption, and that current treatment recommendations need to be reviewed.”

Catheters and other implanted devices are frequently impregnated with antibiotics as a strategy to prevent infection.

However, this approach is likely promoting the development of resistance to antibiotics.

And these infections are most prevalent in intensive care, where patients are sickest and strong antibiotics liberally prescribed, promoting the development of additional resistance.

Professor Howden there’s an urgent need for an international monitoring system to understand the prevalence and impact of S. epidermidis and to systematically measure antibiotic resistance and infections.

“We need a better understanding of how S. epidermidis is persisting in hospitals, because it’s happening in an era where MRSA is disappearing through good infection control measures,” he says.

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