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Researchers find that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive in the body for years

Researchers find that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive in the body for years
Researchers find that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive in the body for years

Study results from Switzerland come at a time when clinical laboratory scientists are looking for new ways to address the problem of antimicrobial resistance in hospitals

Microbiologists and clinical laboratory scientists concerned with combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be interested in a recent study conducted at the University of Basel and the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland. Epidemiologists involved in the study discovered that some of these so-called “superbugs” can remain in the body for up to nine years and continue to infect the host and others.

The researchers wanted to find out how two types of drug-resistant bacteria – K. pneumoniae and E. coli – change in the body over time, according to a university press release. They analyzed samples of the bacteria collected from patients hospitalized over a 10-year period, focusing on older individuals with underlying medical conditions. They found that K. pneumoniae survived for up to 4.5 years (1,704 days) and E. coli survived for up to nine years (3,376 days).

“These patients not only become ill again and again themselves, but they also act as a source of infection for other people – as a reservoir for these pathogens,” said Dr. Lisandra Aguilar-Bultet, the study’s lead author, in the press release.

“This is crucial information for choosing a treatment,” explains Dr. Sarah Tschudin Sutter, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology and the Department of Hospital Epidemiology, which specializes in hospital-acquired infections and drug-resistant pathogens. Sutter led the study at the University of Basel.

The researchers published their results in the journal Nature communication entitled “Intrahost genetic diversity of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing Enterobacterales in long-term colonized patients.”

“The problem is that patients infected with these drug-resistant bacteria can still carry this organism in or on their body even after treatment,” said the epidemiologist Maroya Spalding Walters, MD (above), Head of the Antibiotic Resistance Team in the Federal Government’s Department for Quality Promotion in Health Care Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They show no signs or symptoms of illness, but they can become reinfected and spread the bacteria to other people.” Clinical labs working with microbiologists on antibiotic resistance will want to follow research on these deadly pathogens. (Photo copyright: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

COVID-19 pandemic increases antibiotic resistance

The Basel researchers examined 76 K. pneumoniae isolates from 19 patients and 284 E. coli isolates from 61 patients, all from the period between 2008 and 2018. The study was limited to patients in whom the bacterial strains were detected in at least two consecutive screenings upon admission to hospital.

“DNA analyses indicate that the bacteria initially adapt quite quickly to the conditions in the colonized body regions, but then hardly undergo any genetic changes,” says the statement from the University of Basel.

The researchers also found that some of the samples, including those from different species, had identical drug resistance mechanisms, suggesting that the bacteria were transferring mobile genetic elements such as plasmids between each other.

As a limitation of the study, the authors acknowledged that they could not assess patients’ antibiotic exposure.

Meanwhile, recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the challenges of antibiotic resistance. Although COVID-19 is a viral infection, WHO scientists found that a high percentage of patients hospitalized with the disease between 2020 and 2023 received antibiotics.

“While only 8% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 had bacterial co-infections requiring antibiotics, three out of four, or about 75%, of patients were treated with antibiotics ‘just in case’ they helped,” the WHO said in a press release.

The WHO uses an antibiotic categorization system called AWaRe (Access, Watch, Reserve) to classify antibiotics according to the risk of resistance. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics were in the ‘Watch’ group, indicating that they are “more likely to develop antibiotic resistance and are therefore prioritized as targets of stewardship programs and surveillance.”

“When a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits often outweigh the risks associated with side effects or antibiotic resistance,” said Dr. Silvia Bertagnolio, Division Head of the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Unit at WHO in the press release. “However, when they are unnecessary, they provide no benefit but carry risks, and their use contributes to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.”

Citing research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) NPR reported that in the United States, the number of hospital-acquired antibiotic-resistant infections increased by 32% during the pandemic compared to data immediately before the outbreak.

“This number has fallen, but has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels,” NPR noted.

Search for better antimicrobials

In “Drug-resistant bacteria are killing more and more people. We need new weapons” Vox reported that scientists around the world are looking for innovative ways to accelerate the development of new antimicrobial treatments.

One of these scientists is César de la Fuente, PhD, Presidential Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research team has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can examine molecules from the natural world and predict which of them have therapeutic potential.

UPenn researchers have already developed an antimicrobial treatment from guava plants that has been shown to be effective in mice. Vox reported. They also trained an AI model to scan the proteomes of extinct organisms.

“The AI ​​identified peptides from the woolly mammoth and the manatee as well as other prehistoric species as promising candidates,” Vox These also showed antimicrobial properties in tests on mice.

These findings can be used by clinical laboratories and microbiologists in their work with hospital infection control teams to better identify patients with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria who may arrive at the hospital months or years after discharge.

—Stephen Beale

Related information:

Resistant bacteria can remain in the body for years

“Super bacteria” can remain in the body for years and potentially spread antibiotic resistance

By 2050, the superbug crisis threatens to kill 10 million people a year. Scientists may have a solution

Drug-resistant bacteria are killing more and more people. We need new weapons.

How the pandemic gave superbugs new power

WHO reports widespread misuse of antibiotics in patients hospitalized for COVID-19

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