November 18, 2008 / 12:58 AM / 9 years ago

Expert says dangerous bacteria on increase

LONDON (Reuters) - A dangerous, drug-resistant bacterium normally found in soil and water is on the increase in hospitals worldwide, an infectious disease expert warned on Tuesday.

Acinetobacter baumannii is more resistant than the MRSA superbug and accounts for about 30 percent of drug-resistant hospital infections, said Matthew Falagas, director of the Alfa Institute of Biomedical Sciences in Greece.

“There is a growing frequency of A baumannii infections in various hospitals around the world,” Falagas, also a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said in a telephone interview.

“The infections are difficult to treat because the bugs are resistant to most agents.”

Bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, are a growing problem worldwide. They can cause life-threatening and disfiguring infections and can only be treated with expensive drugs.

Last week researchers said a common and sometimes deadly cause of diarrhoea, drug-resistant Clostridium difficile, was far more prevalent in U.S. hospitals than previously thought. They said as many as 13 of every 1,000 patients were infected.

Drug-resistant bugs are often spread in hospitals, nursing homes or other health care facilities.

“The role of A baumannii as a pathogen causing serious infections in critically ill patients has become increasingly clear,” Falagas wrote in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“This pathogen is associated with institutional outbreaks that are difficult to control.”

Doctors are now turning to antibiotics called polymyxins to fight it. The drugs have not been used much in the past 20 years in part because of side effects that include kidney problems, Falagas said.

This means doctors need new drugs to fight the bug. But the best weapon remains washing to stop the spread of A baumannii, which can live for many weeks on dry surfaces, he added.

“Good hand washing among hospital personnel is the number one important measure,” Falagas said.

Reporting by Michael Kahn; editing by Will Dunham and Andrew Roche

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