As health care professionals we have the responsibility to keep our patients free from harm. But are we keeping them free from harm? So called superbugs, multidrug resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile, are threatening our patients. These bacteria are entering our health care facilities undetected, through patients, visitors, and staff. They’re being spread to other patients through contaminated hands, commonly the hands of health care workers, or through contact with contaminated surfaces, items or equipment.
Some individuals are colonized with these superbugs but show no signs of infection, allowing these bacteria to enter our facilities undetected. Colonized individuals can spread the bacteria to others and potentially cause an infection even though they exhibit no signs of infection themselves.
When spread, these superbugs have serious implications for patients and the health care facility. MRSA can cause severe infections such as:
C difficile can cause:
For the health care facility, healthcare-associated infections caused by these bacteria translate to increased costs and lessened reimbursement.
So what can be done to protect against the spread of superbugs in health care facilities? Performing hand hygiene is the single, most effective action health care workers can take to prevent the spread of infection, of course, but early detection of these superbugs may also help.
Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada developed a new method for detecting the smallest traces of bacteria (and other pathogens). This new method can detect any compound that might indicate the presence of a dangerous pathogen. In fact, according to researchers, the test has the best sensitivity ever reported in a detection system. It’s estimated to be nearly 10,000 times more sensitive than any other detection system.
Researchers developed a molecular device composed of DNA using complex techniques. The device can be turned on by a specific molecule of choice, such as a disease indicator or DNA molecule representing a virus genome. The device produces a massive, amplified signal when turned on by the specific molecule.
According to researchers, a huge advantage of this new test is that it can be performed at room temperature under normal conditions and doesn’t require complicated equipment. Moreover, this testing method will serve as a prototype for creating future diagnostic tests.
Yingu Li, a professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, explained that this testing method permits detection of anything they might be interested in detecting, including a specific protein molecule that is a cancer marker. The method’s sensitivity permits detection in a relatively short period of time.
Researchers are currently working to refine the testing method to create a portable, paper-based point-of-care test. Doing so would completely eliminate the need for laboratory instruments, permitting practitioners to run the tests in their offices.
This is an exciting advance in screening technology that could help facilities detect dangerous superbugs as they hit the door. Stay tuned for more information when it becomes approved and available for use.