Researchers ID Factor in Hospital Bacterial Resistance

Spotting infected patients, disinfecting hospitals key to curbing spread of resistant bacteria

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have uncovered a key factor to explain why antibiotic-resistant bacteria can thrive in a hospital setting. These findings have published in the Sept. 17 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Tiny circles of DNA called plasmids appear to be the culprit. They can easily enter bacteria and move from one bacteria to another, and some carry a gene that makes bacteria drug-resistant, according to the new study. Using advanced DNA sequencing of samples from more than 1,000 patients, the researchers were able to see the complete genome of bacteria samples and identify the antibiotic-resistant genes -- plasmids -- located in those samples.

Plasmids can multiply independently and integrate their DNA with the DNA of the bacteria. And plasmids that have the gene that inactivates certain antibiotics can be transferred to bacteria of various types, the scientists found. The investigators also found antibiotic-resistant genes in tiny collections of organisms called biofilms living in hospital sink drains in patient rooms. This finding did not show that bacteria from the sink drain were passed to any patient, the study authors said. But even though patients who carry this bacteria may not be sick themselves, they can pass this drug-resistant bacteria to others, they added.

Study coauthor Julie Segre, Ph.D., chief and senior investigator at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, told HealthDay. "We are trying to reinforce the message that these drug-resistant bacteria can't become so prevalent that we can no longer control them." And she emphasized, "We are still at the point where we can make a difference in terms of controlling the bacteria."

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