Bacterial biofilms in hospital pipes show pathological qualities

Study suggests built environments like hospitals have microbiomes, too
By Brooks Hays  |  March 14, 2016 at 2:12 PM
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ATLANTA, March 14 (UPI) -- Just like the human gut, built environments host microbiomes -- a unique amalgamation of bacteria.

Recently, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology teamed up with scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency to study bacteria biofilms found in hoses at local hospitals.

Genetic analysis of the biofilms suggests some pathogenic qualities, including resistance to antibiotics. Drug-resistance is growing problem in healthcare, and a problem increasingly studied by disease experts.

"We can say confidently that if pathogens are in there, they are not there in very high abundance," Kostas Konstantinidis, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said in a press release. "But the organisms that we detected as abundant in these biofilms appear to have characteristics that could be of interest because they are related to some bacteria that are opportunistic pathogens that could pose a threat, especially to immunocompromised hospital patients"

Resistance-related genes were more prevalent among the bacterial cultures collected from hospital hoses than those found in water samples from Lake Lanier, a freshwater source near Atlanta. The discrepancy suggests hospitals and freshwater hoses may pose unique risks as habitats for bacteria biofilms.

The bacteria found in the hoses weren't the kinds pathologists normally point to as being most harmful to human health, but the findings are still alarming. Relatively harmless bacteria can share antibiotic-resistance genes with more potent strains.

"Some of the identified genes are the kind that we'd want to keep an eye on," Konstandtinidis explained. "We would like to conduct more studies to gather data on the dynamics of these bacterial groups, but the fact that these genes are present indicates that more studies should be done."

The new research was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

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