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Drug-Resistant Bacteria Spreading Across Europe’s Hospitals

A strain of pathogen capable of causing respiratory and bloodstream infections in humans, and which is resistant to antibiotics, is now spreading throughout hospitals across Europe, a continent-wide survey has just revealed.

Carried out by the Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the study found that the strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae are resistant to the carbapenem antibiotics used as a final option in treating infections.

It’s thought that in 2007 around 341 deaths were caused by the resistant superbug in Europe and by 2015 the number of deaths had risen to 2,094. This was put down to the fact that once these carbapenems aren’t effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria any more, there isn’t much more that can be done, with immuno-compromised people, the elderly and infants the most at risk.

It was noted that more effective infection control in hospitals, taking into account how patients move between hospitals and hygiene interventions, will have an effect – despite the very real threat that K. pneumoniae poses to people.

“The One Health approach to antibiotic resistance focuses on the spread of pathogens through humans, animals and the environment, including hospitals.

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

Co-lead author professor Hajo Grundmann made further comments, saying that the researchers are optimistic that if hospitals follow good hygiene practices, such as early identification and isolation of anyone carrying bacteria, the spread of pathogens can be not only delayed but also successfully controlled.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced the UK’s new 20 year vision and five-year National Action Plan at the start of this year, setting out details on how antimicrobial resistance can be contained, controlled and mitigated.

Antimicrobial resistance is recognised as one of the most serious global threats to human health these days, with resistant bacteria spreading increasingly from one country to the next.

Without working antibiotics, the majority of medical practices – like routine surgery, transplants, chemotherapy and emergency operations – will be less safe and even minor infections could prove fatal.

The UK has succeeded in reducing the amount of antibiotics it uses by over seven per cent since 2014, while sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals has fallen by 40 per cent.

But the number of bloodstream infections resistant to drugs has risen by 35 per cent between 2013 and 2017. So with all this posing serious threats to health, it’s important to protect the antibiotics that are available by ensuring that they’re only used when needed.

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