A new superbug that is resistant to all known antibiotics has been discovered by Australian scientists, prompting renewed calls for hospitals to do more to prevent the rise of untreatable infections.
The bug, Staphylococcus epidermidis, is a type of bacteria commonly found on human skin, but researchers recently discovered several strains across the world that had mutated in hospitals to be resistant to almost all antibiotics.
The completely resistant strains were found in Europe.
“Often it just colonises the skin,” Doherty Institute researcher Ben Howden, who was involved in the discovery, said.
It doesn’t necessarily lead to infection. But in a smaller number of people it can lead to a serious, invasive infection requiring complex treatment.”
Antibiotic resistance is a major and growing global health threat. These recent examples show how dangerous it can be.
The superbug was particularly threatening to those in hospital with a weakened immune system, recovering from surgery or who had implanted medical devices.
Researchers identified the superbug after studying examples from 78 institutions in 10 countries around the world, including Victorian hospitals.
“The discovery is really that there’s this bacteria that’s been spreading in hospitals around the world somewhat unrecognised for a number of years,” Professor Howden said.
The inappropriate prescription of antibiotics is a contributing factor to the rise of superbugs.
One in four antimicrobial drugs were inappropriately prescribed in Australian hospitals and half the prescriptions given in nursing homes were inappropriate, according to recent research by the Australian Government.
Professor Howden said hospitals needed to do more to monitor and prevent the spread of the superbug.
“This is just another example of the use of antibiotics driving bacteria to become more and more resistant,” he said.
“We just have to be alert to the risk of these types of superbugs and find ways to prevent and treat them when they arise.”
The findings have been published in the journal Nature Microbiology.