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Sanger Institute scientists help explore spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Ghana

Some strains of heavily antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Ghana are not successful at spreading outside of the hospital, scientists have found.

It suggests control measures could be focused on clinical settings.

A 3D illustration of the bacteria Klebsiella
A 3D illustration of the bacteria Klebsiella

The scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Oslo University Hospitals, the University for Development Studies, Ghana, and collaborators, used a ‘One Health’ approach to understand the spread of antibiotic resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae), which can cause a wide range of infections. This approach recognises that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.

But they found heavily antibiotic-resistant strains were not found in the environment, or in animals, suggesting that the persistence of these outside the hospitals is currently minimal in this area of Ghana.

Prof Jukka Corander, co-senior author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is a global public health problem, which impacts every country.

“Our study highlights this by finding the same genes conferring resistance at similar levels in both Ghana and Italy. Having detailed genomic information on the spread of antibiotic-resistance and the factors that impact this is vital if we are to try to be able to slow, and eventually, stop this.

“While there have been multiple genomic surveillance studies in European and Western countries, our study works with international collaborators to help inform the situation in a more global setting. Collaboration across borders will be the key to effectively combatting antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reducing their negative impact on public health globally.”

Dr Jessica Calland, from Oslo University Hospitals, the first author of a study published in in The Lancet Microbe, added: “Being able to map the spread of bacteria that can cause treatment-resistant, and potentially life-threatening, infections is vital in developing methods to help stop this. Our study shows that while antibiotic use has increased the number of resistant strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae, these strains are not as effective at spreading through the wider environment. Identifying which strains outcompete these could be a useful tool in helping to lower the levels of the resistant strains, or inform measures to help curb the spread.”

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