KUALA LUMPUR, July 31 — A joint study involving scientists from the University of Freiburg and the Wellcome Sanger Institute analysed more than 1,700 samples of Klebsiella pneumoniae from patients in 244 hospitals across 32 countries in Europe.
It found that drug resistant strains of the bacteria had not only become widespread, it had also been responsible for a six-fold increase in related deaths between 2007 and 2015.
The majority of these infections in Europe are transmitted within hospitals.
A number of K. pneumoniae strains are considered ‘extremely drug resistant’ (XDR) as they cannot be cured using a category of antibiotics called carbapenems. These antibiotics represent the last line of defense in treating bacterial infections.
Scientists have warned that the heavy reliance on antibiotics by hospitals have encouraged the spread of these highly-resistant bacteria.
The study which was published in the Nature Microbiology journal, found that in 2007 the bacteria killed an estimated 341 people in Europe. However, in 2015 this increased to more than 2,000 deaths.
K. pneumoniae bacteria is commonly found in human intestines where it is generally harmless. However, if spread into the respiratory system or the bloodstream, it causes infection which is considered nearly impossible to respond to treatment. This then causes life-threatening illnesses such as sepsis and meningitis.
The elderly and people with weak immune systems are most at risk.
The study recommends for more effective infection control and hygiene interventions in hospitals which could help to prevent the spread of the bacteria strain.
It recommends reviewing how patients move between hospitals and hygiene interventions could make a big difference.
The Klebsiella bacteria has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of 12 antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” which pose a significant threat to human health.