Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are all around London


Swabbing public surfaces reveals some unpleasant truths.


London crawling. There are nearly as many multi-resistant bacteria in the streets as in hospitals, research finds.

Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Researchers in the UK have highlighted the growing problem of antibiotic resistance by literally taking to the streets.

Hermine Mkrchytan and colleagues from the University of East London swabbed commonly touched surfaces in the east and west of the city to measure and compare levels of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci, a group of bacteria known to cause infections in humans.

Samples were collected from door handles, armrests, toilet seats and other surfaces in public areas, as well as sections of two hospitals that are accessible to the public, such as receptions, public washrooms, corridors and lifts.

The numbers were rather revealing. The team identified 600 individual staphylococcus isolates, of which nearly half (281 or 46.83%) showed resistance to two or more antibiotics – most commonly to penicillin (80.42%), fusidic acid (72.4%) and erythromycin (54.45%).

It should be noted, that 48% of the antibiotics prescribed in primary care in England are penicillin.

The findings of the study, which also involved researchers from the Natural History Museum in London and the Department of Infectious Disease at Huashan Hospital in China, are published in a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Antibiotic resistance is a global public health concern. Increasingly, antibiotic resistant bacteria are emerging from different ecological niches,” the authors write.

“It has been documented that surfaces in hospitals and non-hospital areas can be potential reservoirs for antibiotic resistant staphylococci, however studies comparing general public areas and that of public areas in hospitals are fragmentary.”

As expected, in their study the incidence of multi-drug resistance was higher in hospitals (49.5%), where bacteria are a fact of life. However, it was a not insignificant 40.66% in general public areas.

East London (56.7%) was higher than west London (49.96%), in part, the researchers suggest, because of greater population density.

Both were lower, however, than previous studies have found on a university campus in Thailand (61%) and three London hotel rooms – a rather alarming 86%.

Mkrchytan and colleagues say they found a diverse set of genes conferring resistance to antibiotics within the samples, some of which had not been identified previously. Now they want to know more.

“Additional comparative genomics analyses are being conducted to decipher the genetic features of multidrug resistant staphylococci recovered from general public settings and to further our understanding of the origin and evaluation of these isolates,” they write.

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/staphylococcus
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-45886-6
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28617524
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26441881
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