Bacteria being used to fight hospital-acquired infections

Hospitals in Ireland are starting to use bacteria and viruses found in the gut to tackle what scientists describe as the “coming plague of antimicrobial resistance.”

File image - Bacteria in petri dishes.

Principal investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland in University College Cork, Colin Hill, said faecal transplants are being used to cure very difficult to treat hospital-acquired infections.

Also, patients are increasingly taking probiotics following a course of antibiotics to prevent subsequent infection.

The professor of microbial food safety in UCC’s School of Microbiology said they are also isolating bacterial viruses from hospitals and developing them as antimicrobials.

“This is not a fight that has been abandoned because there is nothing we can do,” said Prof Hill at a meeting of international scientists in Cork yesterday.

“We can isolate bacterial viruses in the human body. Bacterial viruses kill bacteria so we can turn those viruses on the bacteria that are causing infection.

“We are at the forefront of research mining the human microbiome to develop new narrow-spectrum antimicrobials that only kill the target species.

“This will limit resistance in non-target species and the resulting damage to human health.

“We are also developing live therapeutic bacteria, bacteriophages [viruses which kill bacteria] and faecal microbiota transplants as alternative therapeutics to antibiotics.”

Every year more than 700,000 people throughout the world die from infections that are resistant to current antibiotics.

By 2050 drug-resistant infections will take an estimated 10m lives per year.

The conference at UCC held by APC Microbiome Ireland discussed solutions to anti-microbial resistance.

HSE clinical chief Martin Cormican warned that a superbug is spreading through Irish hospitals at the rate of about one a day.

“There is about one new case of carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae [CPE] found in Ireland every day,” said Prof Cormican.

The HSE’s national lead for healthcare-associated infection and antimicrobial resistance said CPE was declared a public health emergency last October.

“But so far, about three months into this emergency, we are not making progress as quickly as we need to if we are to control this,” said Prof Cormican.

UCC’s head of pharmacy, Stephen Byrne, said studies in Ireland have shown the overuse of antimicrobials in primary care.

Some GPs are prescribing antibiotics even if they are unnecessary, said Mr Byrne because they feel pressured by patients.

“The use of antibiotics in Ireland during the period 2012 to 2016 continued to rise and Ireland, along with Belgium and France, is a higher consumer of antimicrobials relative to other EU countries,” said Mr Byrne.

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