While superbooks, such as E.coli and MRSA, cause suffering throughout the country, Bath scientists warned that another bacterium is becoming more dangerous because of its resistance to antibiotics — and it is present on every human skin on the planet. .
A close relative of MRSA, Staphylococcus epidermidis , is the main cause of life-threatening infections after surgery, but it is often overlooked by doctors and scientists because it is so common.
Researchers at Milner’s Evolutionary Center at the University of Bath warned that the threat posed by this organism should be taken more seriously, and medical professionals should take extra precautions for those at higher risk of infection who must undergo surgery.
Restless, they identified a set of 61 genes that allow this normally harmless skin bacterium to cause a life-threatening disease.
They hope that, understanding why some strains of S. epidermidis cause disease in certain circumstances, they can in the future determine which patients are most at risk of infection before undergoing surgery.
They took samples from patients who had had an infection after surgery to replace the hip or knee joints and fix fractures, and compared them with swab samples from the skin of healthy volunteers.
They compared genetic variation in all bacterial genomes found in samples from sick and healthy people. Of these, they identified 61 genes in pathogenic bacteria that were not found in most healthy specimens.
Surprisingly, however, there were a small number of healthy people who were found to carry the more deadly form of bacteria, not knowing about it.
It has been discovered that the genes that cause the disease help the bacteria to grow in the bloodstream, avoid the host’s immune system response and make the cell surface sticky, so organisms can form biofilms and make the error resistant to antibiotics.
The group published its study in Relationship with nature this week.
Professor Sam Sheppard, director of Bioinformatics at the Milner Evolution Center at the University of Bath, did research. He said: " Staphlococcus epidermidis is a deadly pathogen in sight.
“It was always ignored clinically, because it was often assumed that it was a pollutant in laboratory samples or it was simply taken as a known risk of surgery.
“Postoperative infections can be incredibly serious and can be fatal. Infection accounts for almost a third of deaths in the UK, so I think we should do more to reduce the risk, if possible.
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"If we can determine who is most at risk of infection, we can attack these patients with additional precautions before they have surgery."
He added: “Since the error is so numerous, they can develop very quickly, replacing the genes with each other.
“If we don’t do anything to control this, there is a risk that these genes that cause diseases can spread more widely, that is, anti-infective resistant postoperative infections can become even more common.”
Professor Dietrich Mack of the Medical Diagnostics Institute of Bioscientia GmbH, Germany, said: “The replacement procedure for a prosthetic joint helps many patients live in an independent and painless life, but can go through a catastrophic course through S. epidermidis infection.
"These infections are difficult to diagnose, and it is hoped that disease-related genes can help separate harmless skin isolates from diseases S. epidermidis strains in a clinical laboratory. This needs to be considered in future studies. ”
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