Scientists map the evolution of a hospital superbug

Modern hospital care and antibiotics are not solely responsible for the antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains that exist today, according to a study published March 9 in Nature Communications.

Researchers from Britain and Norway analyzed 2,027 samples of Enterococcus faecalis — a common bacteria often found in the human intestinal tract — dating to 1936. The team used genetic sequencing to map the evolutionary journey of E. faecalis and track when different strains developed.

They found resistant strains emerged earlier than previously thought and before the widespread use of antibiotics, suggesting antibiotics alone did not cause the bacteria to evolve.

Agricultural and early medical practices, such as the use of arsenic and mercury, also influenced the evolution of some antibiotic-resistant strains that exist today, the researchers found. 

"Currently, when patients are admitted to [the] hospital, they are swabbed for some antibiotic resistant bacteria and fungi and are isolated to ensure that infection rates are kept as low as possible," co-lead author Anna Pöntinen, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Oslo in Norway, said in a news release. "Thanks to this study, it is possible to scrutinize the diversity of E. faecalis and identify those that are more prone to spread within hospitals and thus could cause harm in immunocompromised people. We believe that it could be beneficial to also screen for E. faecalis on admission to hospitals."

More articles on infection control:

Physician viewpoint: Hospital-acquired COVID-19. is rampant, but facilities aren't sounding the alarm
Focus on COVID-19 facilitated spread of drug-resistant infections, experts say
5 staff infected in COVID-19 outbreak at Vermont hospital's oncology unit

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