Forget about MRSA and E-coli, there is another bacterium that is becoming more and more dangerous due to antibiotic resistance – and is present on the skin of every person on the planet.
A close relative of MRSA, Staphylococcus epidermidis, is the main cause of life-threatening infections after surgery, but is often overlooked by clinics and scientists because it is so abundant.
Researchers from the Milner Center for Development at Bath University warn that the threat posed by this organism should be taken more seriously and that additional measures be taken for those at high risk of infection to undergo surgery.
They found a set of 61 genes that allow this normally harmless skin of the bacterium to cause life-threatening illnesses.
We hope to understand why some tribes S. epidermidis cause illness under certain circumstances, may in the future determine which patients are most at risk from pre-operative infection.
Taking samples from patients who had hip or knee replacement and fracture fixation and compared them with tampon samples from the skin of healthy volunteers.
They compared genetic variation across the genome of bacteria found in samples from diseased and healthy individuals. This identified 61 genes in disease-causing bacteria that were not present in most healthy samples.
Surprisingly, however, there was a small number of healthy individuals who were found to carry a more lethal form of bacteria without knowing it.
Disease-causing genes have been identified that help grow bacteria in the bloodstream, avoid host immune responses, create sticky cell surfaces, so that organisms can create biofilms and make them resistant to antibiotics.
The team has published their studies in Natural communication this week.
Professor Sam Sheppard, director of Bioinformatics at the Milner Center for Development at Bath University, led the research. He said: "Staphlococcus epidermidis is a fatal pathogen in the eyes.
"It has always been clinically ignored, because it is often assumed to be a contaminant in laboratory specimens or simply accepted as a known risk of surgical intervention.
"Post-operative infections can be incredibly serious and fatal. Infections account for almost a third of UK deaths, so I think we should do more to reduce the risk if it is possible.
"If we can identify who is most at risk of infection, we can focus on specific hygiene measures before undergoing surgery."
He added, "Because the error is so abundant, they can evolve very quickly by exchanging genes with each other.
"If we do not manage anything, there is a risk that these disease genes could spread more, which means that post-operative infections that are resistant to antibiotics may be even more common."
Professor Dietrich Mack from Bioscientia Institute for Medical Diagnostics GmbH in Germany said: "Joint replacement surgery helps many patients live an independent and carefree life, but can experience a catastrophic course S. epidermidis infection.
"These infections are difficult to diagnose and there is a hope that genes associated with the disease can help to isolate innocuous skin isolates from disease- S. epidermidis strains in the clinical laboratory. This needs to be addressed in future studies. "
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