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Cheap Genome Scans Stop Hospital Bugs

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MRSA, bacteria, "superbug"

The superbug MRSA bacteria

The “$1,000 genome” is being hailed for ushering an age of personalized medicine, where we can get treatments tailored made for our genetic makeup. But the cheap genome scans (which aren’t quite exactly here yet) are also doing something else: stopping common, but nasty, hospital infections.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) persistently plagues hospitals worldwide. One such MRSA outbreak, at a National Health Service Foundation Trust hospital in Cambridge, England, was identified and halted by new, next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques. In a paper in Lancet, Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge outlines her team’s efforts (the Sanger Institute also was involved) to sequence the MRSA behind the outbreak, and halt its progress.

At the NHS hospital in Cambridge, the Rosie Hospital manages about 6,000 baby deliveries each year. All infants in its special care baby unit are screened for MRSA when admitted, and once a week while in the unit. It was this routine screening that picked up MRSA in 12 infants.

The sequencing results showed that the MRSAs in the 12 infants were closely related and part of the same outbreak. After two months, however, another case appeared, and analysis showed it was part of the same MRSA strain. This lapse indicated a carrier in the hospital. After tests on staff showed one asymptomatic carrier, all staff were treated, which ended the outbreak.

While not the first time an outbreak was identified and controlled using NGS, the incident in Cambridge highlights the growing use of NGS techniques in clinical settings, as the cost of sequencing drops (bacterial sequences cost 60 Euro per organism) and results arrive in hours. In August, the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Maryland used a sequencer from the conveniently located National Human Genome Research Institute to identify a strain of Klebsiella pneumonia that, it turned out, was being passed through the hospital by living in sink drains.

Source: The Lancet

Harris, S., Cartwright, E., Török, M., Holden, M., Brown, N., Ogilvy-Stuart, A., Ellington, M., Quail, M., Bentley, S., Parkhill, J., & Peacock, S. (2012). Whole-genome sequencing for analysis of an outbreak of meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: a descriptive study The Lancet Infectious Diseases DOI: 10.1016/S1473-3099(12)70268-2

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