On top of everything else during this pandemic, drug-resistant infections are threatening the most vulnerable patients in COVID-19 ICUs
New study by researchers at the University of Minnesota highlights the continuing need for microbiologists and clinical laboratories to stay alert for COVID-19 patients with drug-resistant infections. In their study, researchers highlighted CDC statistics about the number of Candida auris (C. auris) infections reported in the United States during 2020, for example.
Candida auris is a particularly nasty fungus. It spreads easily, is difficult to remove from surfaces, and can kill. Worst of all, modern drugs designed to combat this potentially deadly fungus are becoming less effective at eradicating it, and COVID-19 ICU patients appear especially vulnerable to C. auris infections.
COVID-19 and C. auris a Potentially Devastating Combination
Hospitals in many areas are at a critical capacity. Thus, hospital-acquired infections such as sepsis can be particularly dangerous for COVID-19 patients. Adding to the problem, C. auris requires special equipment to identify, and standard medical laboratory methods are not always enough. Misidentification is possible, even probable.
A paper in the Journal of Global Antimicrobial Resistance (JGAR), titled, “The Lurking Scourge of Multidrug Resistant Candida Auris in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic,” notes that “A particularly disturbing feature of COVID-19 patients is their tendency to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome that requires ICU admission, mechanical ventilation, and/or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. … This haunting facet of COVID-19 pandemic has severely challenged even the most advanced hospital settings. Yet one potential confounder, not in the immediate attention of most healthcare professionals, is the secondary transmission of multidrug resistant organisms like the fungus Candida auris in COVID-19 ICUs. … C. auris outbreaks occur in critically ill hospitalized patients and can result in mortalities rates ranging from 30% to 72%. … Both C. auris and SARS-CoV-2 have been found on hospital surfaces including on bedrails, IV poles, beds, air conditioner ducts, windows and hospital floors. Therefore, the standard COVID-19 critical care of mechanical ventilation and protracted ventilator-assisted management makes these patients potentially susceptible to colonization and infections by C. auris.”
One study mentioned in the JGAR paper conducted in New Delhi, India, looked at 596 cases where patients were admitted to the ICU with COVID-19. Fifteen of them had infections caused by C. auris. Eight of those patients died. “Of note, four patients who died experienced persistent fungemia and despite five days of micafungin therapy, C. auris again grew in blood culture,” according to reporting on the study in Infection Control Today (ICT).
Some C. auris mortality rates are as high as 72%. And patients with weakened immune systems are at particular risk, “making it an even more serious concern when 8% to 9% of roughly 530,000 ICU patients in the United States have COVID-19,” ICT reported.
Apparently, the COVID-19 pandemic has created circumstances that are particularly suited for C. auris to spread. “Given the nosocomial transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by those infected, many hospital environments may serve as venues for C. auris transmission as it is a known environmental colonizer of ICUs,” wrote the JGAR paper authors.
CDC Reports and Recommendations
Along with being especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, C. auris infections also produce symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, “including fever, cough, and shortness of breath,” according to the CDC’s website. People admitted to ICUs with COVID-19 are especially vulnerable to bacterial and fungal co-infections. “These fungal co-infections are reported with increasing frequency and can be associated with severe illness and death,” says the CDC.
C. auris outbreaks in the United States have mostly been in long-term care facilities, but the pandemic seems to be changing that and more outbreaks have been detected in acute care facilities, the CDC reported. The lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), changes in infection control routines, and other factors could be to blame for the increase.
Just as community spread is an issue with COVID-19 variants, so too is it a concern with C. auris infections. “New C. auris cases without links to known cases or healthcare abroad have been identified recently in multiple states, suggesting an increase in undetected transmission,” the CDC noted.
As of January 19, 2021, according to the CDC the case count of C. auris infections in the US was 1,625, with California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York having more than 100 cases each.
Using Clinical Laboratory Tests to Identify C. Auris
One of the big concerns about C. auris is that it is so difficult to detect, and that medical laboratories in some countries simply do not have the technology and resources to identify and tackle the infection.
“As C. auris diagnostics in resource-limited countries is yet another challenge, we feel that alerting the global medical community about the potential of C. auris as a confounding factor in COVID-19 is a necessity,” wrote the authors of the paper published in the Journal of Global Antimicrobial Resistance.
As if the COVID-19 pandemic has not been enough, drug resistant bacteria, viruses, and deadly fungi are threatening to wreak havoc among SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. Microbiologists and medical laboratory scientists know that testing for all types of infections is vitally important, but especially when it comes to infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) and other dangerous organisms that demonstrate antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Microbiologists and clinical laboratory professionals will want to stay informed about the number of C. auris cases identified in the US and the locations and settings where the fungus was detected. They will want to be on the alert within their hospitals and health networks, as well as with the doctor’s offices served by their labs.
The self-cleaning material has been proven to repel even the deadliest forms of antibiotic resistant (ABR) superbugs and viruses. This ultimate non-stick coating is a chemically treated form of transparent plastic wrap which can be adhered to surfaces prone to gathering germs, such as door handles, railings, and intravenous therapy (IV) stands.
“We developed the wrap to address the major threat that is posed by multi-drug resistant bacteria,” Leyla Soleymani, PhD, Associate Professor at McMaster University and one of the leaders of the study, told CNN. “Given the limited treatment options for these bugs, it is key to reduce their spread from one person to another.”
According to research published in the peer-reviewed Southern Medical Journal, “KPC-producing bacteria are a group of emerging highly drug-resistant Gram-negative bacilli causing infections associated with significant morbidity and mortality.”
Were those surfaces covered in this new bacterial-resistant
coating, life-threatening infections in hospital ICUs could be prevented.
Taking Inspiration from Nature
In designing their new anti-microbial wrap, McMaster researchers took their inspiration from natural lotus leaves, which are effectively water-resistant and self-cleaning thanks to microscopic wrinkles that repel external molecules. Substances that come in contact with surfaces covered in the new non-stick coating—such as a water, blood, or germs—simply bounce off. They do not adhere to the material.
The “shrink-wrap” is flexible, durable, and inexpensive to
manufacture. And, the researchers hope to locate a commercial partner to
develop useful applications for their discovery.
“We’re structurally tuning that plastic,” Soleymani told SciTechDaily. “This material gives us something that can be applied to all kinds of things.”
Industries Outside of Healthcare Also Would Benefit
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection in the US each year. More than 35,000 people die from these infections, making it one of the biggest health challenges of our time and a threat that needs to be eradicated. This innovative plastic coating could help alleviate these types of infections.
And it’s not just for healthcare. The researchers said the coating could be beneficial to the food industry as well. The plastic surface could help curtail the accidental transfer of bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria in food preparation and packaging, according to the published study.
“We can see this technology being used in all kinds of institutional and domestic settings,” Tohid Didar, PhD, Assistant Professor at McMaster University and co-author of the study, told SciTechDaily. “As the world confronts the crisis of anti-microbial resistance, we hope it will become an important part of the anti-bacterial toolbox.”
Clinical laboratories also are tasked with preventing the
transference of dangerous bacteria to patients and lab personnel. Constant
diligence in application of cleaning protocols is key. If this new anti-bacterial
shrink wrap becomes widely available, medical laboratory managers and
microbiologists will have a new tool to fight bacterial contamination.
FDA issues press release following clearance of a clinical lab test to detect genetic markers that indicate the presence of Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae
Clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a new rapid, multi-marker genetic test designed to identify bacteria that are resistant to Carbapenem antibiotics was considered significant enough that the federal agency issued a press release announcing that the test was cleared and now available for use by physicians and clinical laboratories in the United States.
In the race to develop molecular assays and genetic tests for infectious disease that deliver improved sensitivity and specificity with a faster time-to-answer, this new test offers all three benefits. Results are available in just 48 minutes, for example.
Microbiologists and hospital infection control teams are intensifying efforts to identify and control infections of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Now comes news of a new tool that can provide another way to control such infections.
Timothy Lu, a Harvard Medical School student and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D. recipient, has found a way to use bacteriophage-viruses that infect bacteria cells but not human ones-to boost the effectiveness of antibiotics. This development could prove instrumental to conquering the problem of antibiotic-resistant drugs, such as methacillin-resistant Staphylococus aureas, which causes 94,000 cases of life-threatening infections among hospital patients each year.
Lu has engineered bacteriophage to cut through biofilm-the slick, protective coating that covers bacteria-and to seek out the gene mutations that create antibiotic resistance. The bacteriophage then destroy the resistance mechanisms, enabling antibiotic drugs to perform better. The combination of engineered bacteriophage and antibiotics have the potential to eliminate nearly 30,000 times more bacteria than antibiotics alone.
Lu received the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize of $30,000 for inventing the bacteriophage platform. He is developing a secondary use of the platform that would allow bacteriophage to kill off deadly biofilms that attach themselves to food processing equipment and medical instruments.
The success of Lu’s invention could spell out a much better prognosis for patients who are discovered to have methacillin-resistant Staphylococus aureas (MRSA) based on confirmation by hospital-based laboratory tests. Laboratories always welcome medical advancements that make a positive result from a laboratory test less devastating/life-threatening to patients. Lu’s new technology may have applications in the treatment of numerous other superbugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains.