New deadly superbug Steno an ever-increasing threat

Scientists in the Britain say hospitals could be facing an increasing threat from yet another deadly bacterial infection with the potential to rapidly develop a resistance to drugs.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have found the bacteria Stenotrophomonas maltophilia (Steno) currently seen in under 1,000 cases, may ultimately prove to be more difficult to treat than superbugs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

There are currently less than 1,000 reports of Steno blood poisoning in the UK a year - a third of which are fatal; Steno poses a threat to people who are already ill and cases have soared by 40% between 2001 and 2006.

Most Steno infections occur in severely ill patients with already weakened immune systems and are responsible for less than 1% of all healthcare acquired infections; it kills around 300 Britons a year.

The elderly, intensive care patients and cancer patients whose immune systems have been weakened through chemotherapy are among those most at risk.

Steno infections spread through wet areas such as taps and shower heads, and can cling to equipment such as ventilator tubes and catheters, growing into a "biofilm" coating which is difficult to remove.

The study warns the degree of resistance Steno has shown is alarming.

Dr. Matthew Avison from Bristol University who co-led the research team, says Steno is the latest in an ever-increasing list of antibiotic-resistant hospital superbugs and is very worrying because strains are now emerging that are resistant to all available antibiotics.

The researchers believe that cracking the bacterium's genetic code will help scientists to find new way to combat its threat.

However, the Health Protection Agency says the threat should not be over-stated as Steno does not spread in the same way as MRSA or Clostridium difficile and there is little spread between patients.

The researchers say once they know which proteins cause Steno to stick to surfaces, compounds could be developed which interfere with this action which would in turn lead to new ways of combating it.

The research is published in the journal Genome Biology.

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