There’s no question about it: antibiotic resistance is a major problem without a current solution. Thanks to the overuse of antibiotics in both medical treatments and in agriculture, an increasing number of bacteria are developing a variety of ways to fend off these drugs, along with plenty of other standard treatments.
While scientists work on dealing with the problem by turning to underappreciated antibiotics or new solutions entirely, others are constantly unveiling the scale of the problem we face. The latest salvo comes courtesy of a University of Melbourne-led team, whose Nature Microbiology paper is anything but good news.
This bacterial species, Staphylococcus epidermis, is, as the name suggests, commonly present on the human skin. If that genus name sounds familiar, then you’re probably thinking about S. aureus and its antibiotic-resistant version.
Better known as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), it tends to live harmlessly on one-in-30 people’s skin, but can prove deadly as an opportunistic infection for weakened patients in hospital wards. S. epidermis is much the same, in that it’s normally innocuous but can cause dangerous infections in treatment facilities.
Until now, though, MRSA was far more of a concern due to its aforementioned resistance.
However, a few years back, researchers at a Melbourne hospital began to see S. epidermis infections taking hold for far longer than expected. This triggered a multi-year research project designed to investigate its resistance to standard antibiotic treatments.
Taking samples from 78 hospitals scattered across 10 different countries, the team looked for genes that indicated it could defend itself or otherwise evade antibiotics. It turns out that there are three multidrug-resistant lineages of S. epidermis that have silently traversed the globe.
“Our study has uncovered the previously unrecognized international spread of a near pan-drug-resistant opportunistic pathogen,” the authors note in their paper.