KILLER bugs that are “extremely” resistant to antibiotics are spreading through European hospitals, experts have warned.
Surge in deaths
Klebsiella pneumoniae are resistant to the last line of antibiotics – a type of drug known as carbapenems – and so are considered “extremely” drug resistant.
As a result more people are dying after contracting the bugs.
In 2007, around 341 deaths in Europe were blamed on K. pneumoniae. By 2015, that number had increased six-fold, to 2,094.
Once antibiotics stop working against strains of the bacteria, there are few options left to medics.
Experts said infants, the elderly and people with weak immune systems are at greatest risk.
Bugs ‘chew up’ antibiotics
Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Freiburg analysed the genomes of almost 2,000 samples of K. pneumoniae taken from patients in 244 hospitals across 32 countries.
It marks the largest study of its kind into carbapenem-resistant bacteria in Europe.
The scientists discovered that some genes produce enzymes, which “chew up” the antibiotics, rendering them useless.
They warned the heavy use of antibiotics in hospitals provides a breeding ground for these highly-resistant bacteria to spread.
Dr Sophia David, first author of the study, said: “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 K. 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.
“This suggests that the bacteria are spreading from person-to-person primarily in hospitals.”
Spreading from patient-to patient
Dr David’s team also found the antibiotic-resistant bacteria samples were also more likely to be closely related to samples from different hospitals, in the same country.
That suggests national healthcare systems as a whole play an important role in the spread of the potentially killer bugs.
The scientists said better infection control could help stop the bug’s spread.
They recommend reviewing how patients are moved between hospitals and hygiene interventions, to make a difference.
Prof Hajo Grundmann, co-lead author from University of Freiburg, said: “We are optimistic that with good hospital hygiene, which includes early identification and isolation of patients carrying these bacteria, we can not only delay the spread of these pathogens, but also successfully control them.
“This research emphasises the importance of infection control and ongoing genomic surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to ensure we detect new resistant strains early and act to combat the spread of antibiotic resistance.”
The team said another study is planned to investigate the spreading bugs.
Prof David Aanensen, who also authored the study, said: “Genomic surveillance will be key to tackling the new breeds of antibiotic-resistant pathogen strains that this study has identified.
“Currently, new strains are evolving almost as fast as we can sequence them.
“The goal to establish a robust network of genome sequencing hubs will allow healthcare systems to much more quickly track the spread of these bacteria and how they’re evolving.”
The findings are published in the journal Nature Microbiology.