Study reports multidrug resistant bacteria found in hospital sinks

February 24, 2017, American Society for Microbiology
bacteria

Many recent reports have found multidrug resistant bacteria living in hospital sink drainpipes, putting them in close proximity to vulnerable patients. But how the bacteria find their way out of the drains, and into patients has been unclear. Now a team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, has charted their pathways. The research is published February 24 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

"Our study demonstrates that bacterial spread from drainpipes to patients occurs via a staged mode of transmission," said principal investigator Amy Mathers, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Pathology, Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health.

Initially, the colonize the elbows of the drain pipes. The investigators showed that from there, the colonies grow slowly towards the sink strainers—at the rate of roughly one inch per day, said Mathers. Given the distance in typical hospital sinks of elbows below the sink bowls, it frequently takes a week for the colonies to reach the sink strainers. From there, bacteria quickly get splattered around the sink, and even onto the counters surrounding the sinks, where they can be picked up by the patients.

The project grew out of the knowledge that patients are dying from infections with multidrug resistant bacteria that they acquire while hospitalized. In a review Mathers' team conducted with Alice Kizny Gordon, MBBS (a degree that is common in UK and is like MD) and colleagues of the University of Oxford, UK, they found more than 32 papers describing the spread of bacteria resistant to carbapenem—an important antibiotic—via sinks, and other reservoirs of water within hospitals. Half of those papers have appeared since 2010.

In many parts of the world, hospitals are ill-equipped to cope with these superbugs, as in many cases there are few treatment options, said Mathers. "We wanted to better understand how transmission occurs, so that the numbers of these infections could be reduced," she said.

The work entailed building what Mathers said is "the only sink lab we are aware of in the US." The lab contains five identical sinks, modeled after the most common ICU sink in the University of Virginia's hospital in Charlottesville. The experimental bacteria are Escherichia coli, which commonly harmlessly inhabit the human intestinal tract. They can acquire both pathological genes, and , and become superbugs.

Mathers et al. are now using the sink lab to conduct a follow-up study, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to determine precisely how the pathogens reach the , said Mathers. "This type of foundational research is needed to understand how these bacteria are transmitted so that we can develop and test potential intervention strategies that can be used to prevent further spread.

Explore further: Bacteria in estuaries have genes for antibiotic resistance

Related Stories

Bacteria in estuaries have genes for antibiotic resistance

January 31, 2017
An international group of researchers, including Professor Michael Gillings from Macquarie University, have reported that pollution with antibiotics and resistance genes is causing potentially dangerous changes to local bacteria ...

Drug-resistant bacteria possess natural ability to become vulnerable to antibiotics

July 13, 2015
Infections with one of the most troublesome and least understood antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" are increasing at alarming rates, particularly in health-care settings.

Drug-resistant bacteria carried by nursing home patients focus of study

November 30, 2015
A Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital study found that a small percentage of nursing home patients carrying multi drug-resistant bacteria are admitted to hospitals without showing symptoms caused by the bacteria. ...

Diagnosing, treating 'superbugs' is goal of clinical team

December 15, 2016
Dr. Michael Satlin's patients aren't just battling cancer. Many are also fighting drug-resistant bacteria – "superbugs" that threaten their fragile immune systems, and their lives.

Prevention and control of multi-drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria in hospitals

November 18, 2015
Gram-negative bacteria (MDRGNB) include common types such as E. coli that all of us carry in our bowels. When these bacteria get into other parts of the body they can cause infections, including common infections such as ...

Researchers discover how bacteria resist antibiotics in hospitals

September 17, 2014
Scientists have uncovered a key factor to explain why antibiotic-resistant bacteria can thrive in a hospital setting.

Recommended for you

Scientists make significant discovery in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis

September 20, 2018
A team of scientists have identified a naturally occurring antibiotic that may help in the fight against drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Affordable Care Act: Study finds surprising gaps in HIV care providers' knowledge

September 20, 2018
A new study has revealed surprising gaps in some HIV medical providers' knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, with more than a quarter of providers surveyed unable to say whether their state had expanded Medicaid.

Anti-cancer drugs may hold key to overcoming antimalarial drug resistance

September 20, 2018
Scientists have found a way to boost the efficacy of the world's most powerful antimalarial drug with the help of chemotherapy medicines, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

Preventing a dengue outbreak at the 2020 Summer Olympics

September 20, 2018
In 2014, a dengue outbreak unexpectedly occurred in Tokyo. What does that mean for the 2020 summer Olympics and Paralympics being held in the city? Researchers report this week in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases that new ...

Researchers discover influenza virus doesn't replicate equally in all cells

September 19, 2018
The seasonal flu is caused by different subtypes of Influenza A virus and typically leads to the death of half a million people each year. In order to better understand this virus and how it spreads, University of Minnesota ...

Flu season forecasts could be more accurate with access to health care companies' data

September 19, 2018
In an era when for-profit companies collect a wealth of data about us, new research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that data collected by health care companies could—if made available to researchers and public ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Osiris1
not rated yet Feb 26, 2017
This does NOT surprise me at all. For a time a few decades ago, I worked at a baby food plant IN its laboratory where they did studies. Seems counterintuitive, but this johnnie of a lab had in its refrigerator some of the most dangerous bacteria in the world, like plague, diptheria, and other pandemic diseases. These were used all the time in their studies. The biggest and most dangerous product was the dirty dishes. My job-- wash the dishes.....yuck! I was instructed to 'sterilize' an entire gallon of horrible pathogenic brew, one whiff of which could kill me were it not for my mask, with a 1/4 teaspoon of bleach. Cheap bleach! Lady who ran the place said a 'computer study' deemed that quarter teaspoon sufficient to kill all the bugs in a gallon of swill, INSTANTLY. We were supposed to add it, cap it, shake it a bit and then pour it down the drain before cleaning it by 'rinsing it out'! We put the world at risk every day so to save 88 cents per gallon bleach!!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.