Three new strains of superbugs that are resistant to most antibiotics have been detected in Australian hospitals.
The bacteria, known as staphylococcus epidermidis, could also be spreading globally, according to research by the University of Melbourne published in the Nature Microbiology Journal. The bacteria are commonly found on human skin, but new strains are becoming resistant to almost all antibiotics.
Worryingly, some strains found in Europe are already capable of causing near untreatable infections. While staphylococcus epidermidis is a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections, not as much is known about it compared to other similar bacteria.
Researchers have now analysed hundreds of cases of staphylococcus epidermidis from 78 different institutions and 10 countries around the world, finding that three drug-resistant strains are spreading around the world. This could cause major problems for patients who are immunocompromised or have prosthetic materials such as catheters or joint replacements implanted.
“The discovery of these new strains means we are now routinely using our last-line antibiotics that are expensive and toxic,” study author Professor Ben Howden said. “This makes these S. epidermidis infections very costly and difficult-to-treat.”
Meanwhile, first-author on the paper Dr Jean Lee noted that staphylococcus epidermidis can make small changes in its DNA, resulting in resistance to two major antibiotics.
“These two antibiotics are unrelated and you would not expect one mutation to cause both antibiotics to fail,” Lee said. “Our study suggests current guidelines for treating these infections with the combination of these two antibiotics that were thought to protect one another against developing resistance are based on an incorrect assumption, and that current treatment recommendations need to be reviewed.”
Researchers believe the bacteria has spread because implanted devices are regularly impregnated with antibiotics as a strategy to prevent infection, but this could have actually been building up a resistance. The infections are also most common in intensive care, where patients are typically on strong antibiotics, which could further promote the development of resistance.
“There is an urgent need for an international monitoring system to understand the prevalence and impact of S. epidermidis and to systematically measure antibiotic resistance and infections due to this pathogen,” Howden added. “We need a better understanding of how S. epidermidis is persisting in hospitals, because it’s happening in an era where MRSA is disappearing through good infection control measures.”
The latest research comes just months after a study found Triclosan, a common ingredient found in toothpaste, hand wash, and more than 2,000 other personal care products has been found to lead to antibiotic resistance, despite being an anti-fungal and antibacterial agent.