Diabetic patients at greater risk from superbug

Published: 13 May 2013 at 10:01

Research by Anglia Ruskin microbiologist shows danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

New research published tomorrow [Tuesday, 14 May] in the Journal of Medical Microbiology highlights the danger posed to diabetic patients by the deadly superbug Acinetobacter baumannii.

It was previously known that people with diabetes were at greater risk of contracting bacterial infections.  

This new study, co-authored by Dr Ben Evans of Anglia Ruskin University and funded by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and King Faisal University, has shown for the first time that diabetic patients with an Acinetobacter baumannii infection are more likely than non-diabetic patients to contract strains of the bacterium that are resistant to the carbapenems, a group of last-line-of-defence antibiotics.

Acinetobacter baumannii is frequently found in the Middle East and has been referred to as “Iraqibacter” due to the number of troops who have contracted the bacteria after being wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It only affects people whose immune system has been compromised and is mainly contracted in hospitals.  

Dr Evans, Dr Al-Sultan from King Faisal University and co-authors, from the University of Edinburgh, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, King Faisal University and Taibah University, studied samples taken from patients in intensive care units in 37 hospitals in Saudi Arabia between 2008 and 2011.

From the 271 samples, 75 isolates from different patients were randomly selected.  Of these, 100% of the diabetic patients had a strain of Acinetobacter baumannii resistant to a carbapenem (meropenem or imipenem) compared to 53% of the non-diabetic patients.

Dr Evans, Lecturer in Microbiology and Medical Biotechnology at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“One of the greatest threats to modern medicine is the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and with Acinetobacter baumannii we are essentially talking about something that is as at least as dangerous as MRSA and much more difficult to eradicate.
“Although it is less commonly found in the UK, there are different strains and some of these tend to be more resistant to antibiotics.  Within Europe for example, the strains found in Greece and Turkey tend to be more drug resistant than the strains found in Northern Europe, which may be due to different antibiotic prescribing practices.
“Another growing health concern is the increase in the number of people with diabetes.  Parts of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, have particularly high rates of type 2 diabetes, which is related to obesity, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, although it is also an increasing problem in the UK.
“Diabetes has been shown to be a significant risk factor in the acquisition of serious hospital-acquired bacterial infections.  The combination of an increasing number of diabetic patients and of carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, to which these patients appear to be particularly susceptible, presents a worrying scenario.
“Perhaps policies for where and how diabetic patients are treated should be examined, bearing in mind the additional risk they face of acquiring antibiotic-resistant infections while in hospital.”