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Whole genome sequencing may help control bacterial outbreaks

Researchers quickly halted a bacterial outbreak in a hospital neonatal unit because they identified the specific pathogen and were able to respond to it directly.

By
Stephen Feller
Using whole genome sequencing, researchers were able to stop a bacterial outbreak in a hospital neonatal unit because they were able to quickly identify the specific pathogen at fault. Photo: Adam Gregor/Shutterstock
Using whole genome sequencing, researchers were able to stop a bacterial outbreak in a hospital neonatal unit because they were able to quickly identify the specific pathogen at fault. Photo: Adam Gregor/Shutterstock

SYDNEY, June 8 (UPI) -- Researchers used whole genome sequencing to quickly identify the strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria and halt an outbreak in a hospital neonatal unit, discovering a potential new weapon for doctors trying to prevent the quick spread of an unknown pathogen.

Identifying the bacteria quickly allowed doctors to properly treat patients, replace equipment that may have been contaminated and take steps to prevent it from spreading or happening again.

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During the outbreak, all babies in the neonatal unit were screened using nasal swabs, finding 18 infected infants, and sinks, splash-backs and soap dispensers were also swabbed. After performing real-time DNA sequencing on 12 of the samples from babies and seven physical locations in the unit, researchers found all were infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Although only one of the infants had become ill, the bacteria can be fatal for babies, and the quick response to the outbreak prevented others from becoming infected.

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"Bacteria, such as P. aeruginosa, have evolved into many strains and frequently contaminate the healthcare environment, which makes it difficult to determine the source of an outbreak and control it using traditional methods," said Rebecca Davis, MD, a staff specialist in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Royal Prince Albert Hospital in Sydney, in a press release.

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"Whole genome sequencing gave us the ability to see that all but one of the babies were infected by the same strain of P. aeruginosa, something that would not have been recognized otherwise. When trying to stem infection, the ability to exclude a patient from the outbreak is just as important as the recognition of the outbreak itself. Additionally, the thorough information provided about factors of each strain, like antibiotic resistance mutations if present, and the quick processing time make it a superior tool in infection control."

The study is published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

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