Hidden gram-negative bacteria pose a serious threat to hospital patients

Hidden gram-negative bacteria pose a serious threat to hospital patients
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Carriers of gram-negative bacteria have a 14% chance of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection within 30 days of hospitalisation, according to a study from Amsterdam UMC.  

Researchers examined patients who unknowingly carried the multi-resistant gram-negative bacteria, which is known to cause urinary tract infections and sepsis. They found that almost one in seven of these patients developed an infection that was untreatable by most antibiotics.  

The results of the study have been published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 

Antimicrobial resistance is making infections harder to treat

Antimicrobial resistance is a serious global health issue. Increasing rates of antimicrobial resistance are making infections more difficult to treat. As a result, effective antibiotics are  becoming rarer and more expensive. Many countries are already experiencing problems with infections related to bacteria that have become so resistant that no treatment is possible.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named antimicrobial resistance as one of the ten biggest threats to global public health. Over 90% of antibiotics used for the treatment of certain conditions, such as urinary tract infections, have become ineffective. This highlights the importance of research into stopping the carriership of resistant bacteria like gram-negative bacteria, in order to prevent untreatable infections.  

People can carry unknowingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria without any noticeable effects or symptoms. These bacteria are usually found in the intestines, mouth or on the skin.  

Carrying gram-negative bacteria is generally harmless. However, it can become a problem if the carrier develops an infection, which can happen during hospitalisation. Gram-negative bacteria can complicate the treatment of patients who have been hospitalised for another reason.  

The research team from the Department of Medical Microbiology and Infection Prevention at Amsterdam UMC set out to determine the chances of a gram-negative bacteria developing an infection during the patient’s time in hospital.  

Gram-negative bacteria increase the risk of infection

The researchers found that the average risk of infection with multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacteria was 14% within 30 days of hospitalisation and was as high as 19% in some patients. Comparatively, general infection rates after surgery typically vary from 1% to 20%, depending on the procedure.  

The chances of infection after an operation in a body area with a lot of bacteria, such as intestinal surgery, are between 18-20%. The average for surgery in a sterile area of the body is typically between 1-3% within 30 days.  

These results exposed the risk of infections as well as facilitated a comparison of different types of resistant bacteria. The researchers believe their findings could provide tools for comparing the risk to different types of patients. It is important to note that most were involved in the study and were seriously ill and were more likely to contract an infection.  


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