Scientists at the Sheffield Hallam University in South Yorkshire are trying to determine which bugs grow in intensive care units, in a bid to develop a novel sampling regime that would indicate the threat of MRSA and other superbugs in the environment.
The term MRSA or methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus is used to describe those examples of the organism Staphylococcus aureus, that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Methicillin was an antibiotic used many years ago to treat patients with Staphylococcus aureus infections. It is now no longer used except as a means of identifying this particular type of antibiotic resistance.
"We are developing a standard sampling regime to take swabs from sinks, taps, floors and other surfaces like computer keyboards, and use these to identify accurately which superbug genes are present in an intensive care unit. Critically ill patients in the intensive care unit are particularly at risk from hospital acquired infections," said Gemma Kay from Sheffield Hallam University in South Yorkshire.
Along with the clinical collaborators at the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, the researchers are working to develop procedures for infection control, which could protect patients at risk and help to control any future superbug outbreaks.
"Our technique allows us to characterise the genes from micro-organisms using a gene amplification technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This lets us expand tiny samples enough to identify individual strains of bacteria, and to spot particular antibiotic resistance genes," said Kay.
"Our findings so far, from routine samples taken from the intensive care unit and patients screened over the last 12 months, show extremely low levels of MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus), known drug resistant bacteria such as Clostridium difficile and other strains of bacteria that can make extended spectrum beta lactamase, which are all resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat infections," she added.
Intensive care unit patients are specifically susceptible to drug resistant infections, which can worsen their condition, prolong their stay and require heavy antibiotic regimes, consuming significant resources from the hospital budget. Frequencies of resistant infections in the intensive care unit have been extremely low, till date.
"By establishing which organisms and which drug resistance genes are circulating in the intensive care unit we will be able to see to what extent the environment is a potential infection threat to patients. Our experience so far suggests very good infection control, but the final outcomes of the study may suggest further changes that could provide additional protection for patients," said Kay.
The study was presented at the Society for General Microbiology's 162nd meeting being held this week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.