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Chasing infections: How Assuta is fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Bacteria (Credit: PickPik)

Forty percent. That’s the chance an individual who stays more than seven days in any hospital has of developing a potentially deadly infection, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“There is no doubt that microbial infections are a huge problem,” says Dr. Nadav Sorek, head of the Emerging Infectious Disease Center and Microbiology Lab at Assuta Ashdod. “Today, that challenge is combined with multi-drug resistant bacteria – bacteria resistant to most antibiotics and therefore hard to treat.

“Antibiotic-resistant microbial infections threaten humanity, and we should all be concerned.”

At Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, Sorek, Dr. Danielle Keidar Friedman, senior scientist at the emerging infectious disease laboratory, and their team of researchers are working to make their medical center safer – and eventually, they hope to share their protocol with other hospitals.

The doctors are engaged in a project to map the origins and genetic sequence of “superbugs” and stop them from spreading.

“Prevention is the most efficient way,” Sorek says. “To prevent infections, you need to know how they spread.”

The team is capturing bacteria samples and bringing them to the microbiology lab. There, it is sequenced so that the researchers can understand the relationship between different circles of bacteria and the infected people.

Sometimes a patient could spread a bacterium; other times, it could be a surface in a hospital room or ward. A strain could also have entered from the outside, making it easier to stop it from spreading.

“We need to isolate the patients carrying superbugs so they won’t infect other patients,” Sorek explains. “We want to know if some patients are bringing in bacteria from specific facilities, for examples, a geriatric facility.

“If we don’t know the bacteria’s origins, we don’t know where to put our efforts,” Sorek continues. “You could be putting your efforts into one department, but the leak of infection is coming from a different department entirely.”

Dr. Nadav Sorek

The goal is to create a protocol for quickly sequencing and understanding these superbugs, which will be part of the hospital’s routine.

“We are currently building this protocol,” Keidar Friedman says.

She adds that if the bacteria are mapped, the staff will know to act fast if a dangerous bacterium enters the hospital a second time.

This could save lives.

According to an article published in the Lancet, more than 1.2 million people worldwide die annually due to antimicrobial resistance, and as many as 5 million when you include associated deaths.

“Before lab tests were developed, the medical world was based on assumptions,” Sorek recalls. “A patient would visit his doctor with a fever, and based on his clinical symptoms and other factors, you would determine he had a particular disease and provide treatment. The lab tests moved the medical world from assumptions to knowledge, and we use lab tests daily.

“We want to do the same thing with bacteria outbreaks,” Sorek continues. “We want to move from assumption to knowing what is happening. The same way the lab gives us the information we need to treat patients, this new protocol could help us prevent microbial infections.”


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