Hospitals well know they’re in a difficult battle against infections, employing hand-washing protocols; isolating patients with certain conditions; using fresh gowns, caps and other coverings as the situation dictates; wearing face masks; and any number of other precautions.
But what if the threat is airborne ... and has wings?
About 20,000 insects—including houseflies, drain flies and mosquitoes—collected at seven hospitals in England had some creepy results: 90% carried potentially harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus. The big worry: 53% of the bacteria strains found were resistant to at least one antibiotic and 19% were resistant to multiple antibiotics, according to a study at Aston University recently published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
“What’s quite interesting, though, is the high proportion of drug-resistant bacteria found in these samples,” said Federica Boiocchi, a Ph.D. student and lead author of the study. “It’s a vivid reminder of how our overuse of antibiotics in healthcare settings is making infections more difficult to treat.”
Patients shouldn’t panic, however. The risk of bacteria-laden insects infecting a patient is minuscule, according to Anthony Hilton, an applied microbiology professor at Aston University.
“Insects will only play a very small role in the transfer of bacteria, so this risk should be seen in the context of wider efforts to stop the spread of harmful and drug-resistant bacteria,” he said.
The airborne bugs were found in spots where food was prepared and stored, as well as in neonatal and maternity wards. Only a few carried enough bacteria to possibly cause an infection, researchers said.