Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 08:58 UK

Warning over hospital infection

Stenotrophomonas maltophilia
Steno is a threat to people who are already ill

Hospitals could face a growing threat from a deadly bacterial infection, warn scientists.

An analysis by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found Stenotrophomonas maltophilia has the capacity to develop drug resistance rapidly.

There are currently less than 1,000 reports of Steno blood poisoning in the UK a year - a third of which are fatal.

But the Genome Biology study warns it may eventually prove harder to treat than superbugs such as MRSA.

The degree of resistance it shows is very worrying
Dr Matthew Avison
University of Bristol

At present, Steno infections are responsible for less than 1% of all healthcare acquired infections.

Most infections are in severely ill patients whose immune systems have already been weakened.

Steno spreads 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.

Dr Matthew Avison, from the University of Bristol, who co-led the research team, said: "This is the latest in an ever-increasing list of antibiotic-resistant hospital superbugs.

"The degree of resistance it shows is very worrying. Strains are now emerging that are resistant to all available antibiotics."

Dr Lisa Crossman, who also took part in the research, said that cracking the bacterium's genetic code should help scientists to find new way to combat its threat.

However, the Health Protection Agency said the threat should not be over-stated.

A spokesperson said: "The infection does not spread in the manner of MRSA or C. difficile - there is little spread between patients, and infections are mostly caused by one-off strains."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Clean and safe treatment in the NHS is a top priority for the government.

"We have committed an investment of 270m per year by 2010/11 to support infection prevention on top of the extra money that the NHS has already invested in better education and training, upgrading isolation facilities, new equipment and better surveillance."


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