The researchers' concern stems from the fact that classical Klebsiella pneumoniae is one of the bacterial species that can easily acquire mobile genetic units, called plasmids, that contain multiple genes that confer high levels of antimicrobial resistance.
"That's in part why we're concerned," says Russo. "We know that this bacterium has the potential to acquire these plasmids and it almost certainly will."
He notes that most bacteria that have proven to be resistant to most or all of the drugs currently available do not usually infect healthy members of the community.
"What is alarming about the hypervirulent Klebsiella pneumoniae is that they do possess the potential to infect healthy people," says Russo. "If this hypervirulent bacterium also becomes highly resistant to antimicrobials, we will have a significant problem to manage. We hope that our research and that of others can prevent this possibility."
While the new hypervirulent variant was first seen exclusively in in the Pacific Rim, it has now been found in several cities in North America, including Buffalo, and in Europe, Canada, Israel and South Africa as well. The UB researchers characterize it as "under-recognized" both by physicians and microbiology laboratories.
The disease most commonly presents as a liver abscess, which is not typical for otherwise healthy patients.
"This new variant presents with unique and scary features: first is its tendency to infect young, healthy people in the community and the second is its unique propensity for metastatic spread to other parts of the body," says Russo. "It spreads to sites beyond the initial source of the infection, such as the lungs, the central nervous system and the eye, potentially causing loss of vision. If infection spreads to the brain, there can be brain damage as well. Between 10 and 30 percent of cases are fatal."
In Buffalo, thi
|Contact: Ellen Goldbaum|
University at Buffalo