Key themes from ID Week 2013


Having somewhat dipped in towards the end of ID Week 2013 due to the overlapping Infection Prevention 2013 Conference in London, I can’t begin to provide a comprehensive overview of such a large event. Instead, I’ve tried to summarize new data on two important areas: the epidemiology and control of multidrug-resistant Gram-negative rods (MDR-GNR) and the role of the environment in transmission. You can access all of the abstracts free online here. Also, the poster abstracts that I cite below are either individually hyperlinked or can be downloaded here.


Dr Kavita Trivedi (California Department of Public Health) gave an overview of CRE in the USA, which has now been reported in virtually every state. Whilst surveillance sites, methods and definitions are problematic, CDC are coordinating some useful emerging data. For example, an NNIS prevalence survey indicates an increase in CRKP from 1% in 2001 to 10% in 2011. Also, the Multi-Site Resistant Gram-Negative Bacilli Surveillance Initiative (MuGSI) is beginning to yield some data. Early results from four states indicate that CRE is 10x less common than MRSA in the population, predominantly from urine cultures (85%) from patients with co-morbitities (93%) with a low mortality rate (4%). The CDC CRE toolkit provides a practical overview of recommended interventions. Finally, the challenges outlined by Dr Trivedi included: long-term care; variable prevalence; unknown epidemiological associations of different strains and genes; and colonization duration.

Oral presentations

A featured oral abstract by Bamburg et al. described an outbreak of NDM-producing K. pneumoniae affecting eight patients. The complex transmission map was dissected using whole genome sequencing, reminiscent of the NIH experience.

There was a useful oral session on ‘Identifying and Overcoming Challenges in Preventing Transmission of MDRO GNR’:

  • 1207, Haverkate. A Dutch group found that Klebsiella carrying OXA-48 can appear susceptible in vitro, risking ‘silent transmission’ of both the gene and the organism. The mean duration of colonization was almost one year and modeling indicated that readmission of CRE colonized patients needs to be carefully accounted for.
  • 1208, Mody. A cluster RCT in nursing home residents with urinary catheters or feeding tubes found that enhanced and preemptive isolation; ASC; and education led to a significant reduction in MDROs and CAUTI.
  • 1209, Hayden. A bundled intervention (ASC and isolation; daily CHG bathing; education; and adherence monitoring) significantly reduced CR Klebsiella in three of four LTACs included in the study. The prevalence of CR Klebsiella was remarkably high: 45% of patients at baseline. Environmental contamination was not identified, so no enhanced cleaning and disinfection was implemented, which is different to the experience of NIH.
  • 1210, Lewis. Varying the definition of ‘MDR’ made a profound impact on the proportion of patients requiring contact isolation, from 8-30%. Subsequent discussion with the authors indicated that the proposed MDR definitions developed by ECDC and CDC to be too sensitive for bacteria with less intrinsic resistance, such as E. coli. Perhaps a separate definition for the Enterobacteriaceae and non-fermenters is the way forward here?
  • 1211, Apisarnthanarak. The implementation of chlorhexidine bathing plus a switch to bleach for environmental disinfection brought an outbreak of A. bauamannii in Thailand under control. But which worked?
  • 1212, Barnes. A mathematical model indicated that hand hygiene is twice as important as environmental hygiene for interrupting A. baumannii, MRSA and VRE transmission. Whilst an awful lot of assumptions are required in this model, I can believe this 2:1 ratio in light of the following: “healthcare personnel are like small children: they touch everything and don’t always wash their hands” (Curtis Donskey) and “healthcare personnel hands are like very mobile shared surfaces” (Eric Lofgren).


  • 740, Jamal. CRE rate: 3% of 2000 Kuwaiti clinical isolate; 15.9% of CRE NDM-1 producers.
  • 746, Koper. A match made in hell between hypervirulent K2 Klebsiella and KPC; in vitro plasmid transfer demonstrated.
  • 1578, Madigan. No CRE detected in 69 international patients at Mayo Clinic; 22% carried ESBLs.
  • 1582, Johns. 50% of 66 MDR A. baumannii cases in Ohio in 2012 presented in first two days of admission, mostly admitted from extended care facilities, illustrating the ‘revolving door’ between acute and other healthcare facilities.
  • 1586, Carrilho. 26% of 157 Brazilian CRE polymyxin-resistant, though polymyxin resistance was not associated with increased mortality.
  • 1603, Drees. Remarkably, a survey from the SHEA Research Network indicates that 6% of hospitals do NOT isolate patients with CRE.
  • 1609. Decker. A study of CRE colonization patterns indicates median colonization of 216 days (range 134-376). One patient was colonized for >500.
  • 1611, Odom. CRE cultured from 12 (4.4%) of surfaces, predominantly sink drains.
  • 1612, Fitzpatrick. Selective broth enrichment added 10% sensitivity for detecting CRE. Is the resulting diagnostic delay worth the wait?
  • 1615, Lin. Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) daily bathing significantly reduces the number of body sites growing CRE, but several sites remain colonized.
  • 1618, Cheng. CRE identified in 1.2% of 6533 rectal screens and faecal specimens in Hong Kong, which is lower than I would expect.

Reflections from MDR-GNR research

  • We now have some intervention studies, but many include bundled interventions. We need more resolution on what works.
  • The duration of colonization with CRE seems to be long, probably around 1 year on average. Is this enough for a “once positive, always positive” approach?
  • Prevalence of CRE is variable around the USA, and in other parts of the world.
  • There is poor resolution between the epidemiology of Enterobacteriaceae and non-fermenters.
  • Most would agree that contaminated surface play an important role in the transmission of MDR non-fermenters such as A. baumannii. But is CRE an environmental issue? Some groups have found contamination and implemented enhanced disinfection, others have not.
  • Should chlorhexidine decolonization be part of the intervention for MDR-GNR?
  • Different research groups use different terminology and the meaning is sometimes obscured. International consensus is required.

Role of the environment in transmission

Dr Curtis Donskey (Cleveland) gave an excellent overview of ‘Environmental Controls for the Prevention of C. difficile Transmission’. Dr Donskey is one of the most active researchers anywhere in the world, focusing much of his attention on the role of the environment. Having established the importance of contaminated surfaces in the transmission of C. difficile, Dr Donskey explored emerging themes in addressing surfaces contaminated with spores covering conventional and automated terminal cleaning, and the impact of improving daily disinfection. The current challenges outlined included where to clean, how to validate “no-touch” automated room disinfection systems (NTD) to disentangle product claims from real-world performance, how best to engage environmental services and how to make disinfection easier in order to facilitate compliance.


  • 347, Livorsi. Patients with a higher nasal burden of MRSA are more likely to carry MRSA at other sites and contaminate their environment.
  • 348, Sitzlar. Useful stratification of MRSA/VRE room contamination rate by patient C. difficile status. Rooms of patients on precautions for CDI 3x more likely to be contaminated.
  • 1393, Deshpande. One hospital found more C. difficile contamination in the rooms of patients who were not on precautions for CDI than in rooms of patients on precautions for CDI!
  • 1394, Kundrapu. Suggests that the result would be better if those tasked with monitoring cleaning performance got their hands dirty and cleaned.
  • 1541, Sunkesula. Reduction in VRE in new unit; attributable to no shared rooms and bathrooms in the new unit?
  • 1685, Rose. A couple of carbapenem-resistant bacteria on public surfaces outside New York hospitals; I bet you it’d be higher in New Delhi!
  • 1685, Havill. Extended survival of CRE on dry surfaces; will surprise some.
  • 1690, Kirk. Almost no MRSA cultured from medication cabinets in isolation rooms. Direct plated swab lacks sensitivity?
  • 1691, Suwantarat. Quantitative assessment of HCP contact with equipment and fomites helps to define high touch (risk?) items; medication chart highest frequency of contact (1 per patient hour) yet possibly also the least cleaned item.
  • 1692, Hirsh. ipads (and other personal electronic devices) can become contaminated with pathogens; contact precautions should include an explicit instructions not to touch these items. (This was implemented at NIH during recent CRE outbreak there).
  • 1695, Williams. Pathogens identified on the clothing of HCP at the BEGINNING of their shift! (Reminds me of Hayden article where VRE commonly found on the hands of HCP BEFORE they entered patient rooms.)
  • 1697, Vassallo. Universal standard precautions didn’t stop impressive trend reductions. Time to abandon contact precautions?
  • 1698, Mann. Cleaning survey response rate of 100% (unprecedented). EVS staff have something to say, if only we’d listen.
  • 1700, Gerba. What’s for lunch in the hospital cafeteria? MRSA, enteric bacteria and spores, apparently.
  • 1701, Wiemken. Wipes are quicker and easier than bucket methods. Why wouldn’t you? (Perhaps only due to lack of wetting reducing efficacy.)
  • 1705, Boyce. The informal ‘standard’ for ‘clean’ is <2.5 cfu/cm2. This equates to 65 cfu/contact plate, which is almost 1/3 of the way to uncountable. Is this an acceptable standard for ‘clean’?
  • 1706, Power. Contaminated neonatal incubator? An hour of UVC should do the trick.
  • 1707, Horn. HPV for terminal room disinfection associated with significant reduction in CDI. Study design controlled for hand hygiene compliance, but time series analysis may have been more appropriate.
  • 1708, Anderson. Is variation in UVC cycle time for room disinfection explained entirely by variation in room size?
  • 1709, Uslan. Assessment of various Cu surfaces; I was unaware that you could apply Cu as a spray though have concerns over durability.

Other highlights

  • Decolonization has been a hot topic since several high-profile articles have been published recently. It’s a shame that universal chlorhexidine was conflated with universal mupirocin in the Huang study; the two should be considered separately in my view. The potential for resistance to mupirocin is extremely high, whereas the risk for ‘resistance’ or continued reduced susceptibility to chlorhexidine is lower. However, an interesting finding from poster 1615 was that the measured CHG skin concentration (20-1200 mg/L) was MUCH lower than the applied CHG concentration (10,000 mg/L). This brings the subtly reduced susceptibility to CHG reported in MRSA into play. Both Dr Aaron Milsone (Hopkins) and Prof Mary-Claire Roghmann (University of Maryland) highlighted the importance of the need to ‘tend the human microbiome’ and to consider the ‘host-microbiome-pathogen’ interaction rather than the ‘host-pathogen’ interaction, remembering that decolonization can cause considerable collateral damage to the host microbiome.  
  • Dr Denise Cardo (CDC) delivered the SHEA Lectureship on HAI Science and Policy. CDC are streets ahead of any other government health agency in leading HAI science through the development of common, simple goals; accountability; transparency; efficiency and strategy. HAI science alone is not sufficient to influence policy; this requires congressional briefings, senate hearings and the use of the scientific and lay press. The recently published CDC threat report outlines how the (somewhat bleak) future may look. Most poignantly, Dr Cardo could not attend the conference and delivered her lecture remotely due to the government shutdown, which signals leaner times ahead for CDC.  
  • BUGG. Dr Anthony Harris (University of Maryland) presented the results of the ‘Benefits of Universal Glove and Gown’ (BUGG) study. This RCT with impressive compliance to screening, gloving and gowning showed a significant 40% reduction in MRSA but no significant reduction in VRE. The a priori primary outcome (a composite measure of MRSA and VRE acquisition) was non-significant. I’m generally not a fan of universal approaches, since compliance in the real world is likely to tail off when the spotlight of a large study fades. Indeed, poster 1696 showing a ‘dismal’ 20% compliance rate with gowning in the field sheds a shadow on the BUGG study.   
  • Dr Brad Spellberg (UCLA) gave a wake-up call on the future of antibiotics and resistance. Reflecting on the three things guaranteed in life (death, taxes and resistance), Dr Spellberg outlined the unfair fight between humans and bacteria: we’re outnumbered to begin with, and multiply much more slowly! Dr Spellberg’s recent papers in CID and NEJM outline the radical approach required to curb and reverse antibiotic resistance including embracing technology, rekindling R&D, preserving effective agents and exploring novel therapies. Dr Spellberg gave a fascinating insight from the 1960s revealing that it’s not the first time the antibiotic pipeline has dried. We need to learn from history and rekindle R&D before the pipeline dries completely. More importantly though, exploring non-antibiotic therapies, or novel applications of existing agents, has a more realistic chance of brightening the future of antimicrobial therapy.   

4 thoughts on “Key themes from ID Week 2013

  1. Take some time to review the current state of affairs from ID Week and the overview given by Jon Otter. Is MDR-GNR the new MRSA in healthcare and/or the community? How does the environment continue to play a critical role in transmission and reservoirs for antibiotic resistance?


    • Thanks Rodney – good questions.

      ‘Is MDR-GNR the new MRSA in healthcare and/or the community?’ It depends which MDR-GNR we’re talking about. Resistant non-fermenters have a very distinct epidemiology to the resistant Enterobacteriaceae. Resistant non-fermenters such as Acinetobacter really only cause problems in hospitalized patients, much like heatlhcare-associated MRSA. Meanwhile, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae have the capacity to spread like wildfire in hospital and community settings, much like community-associated MRSA.

      ‘How does the environment continue to play a critical role in transmission and reservoirs for antibiotic resistance?’

      The question has now moved on from whether contaminated surface contribute to transmission to when and how much they contribute. The relative importance of the environment relative to other transmission routes will vary by organism and scenario, which we should bear in mind when planning the most appropriate interventions.


  2. Excellent synopsis Jon. I really love how you capture these conferences. It makes my inability to attend a bit more bearable.

    I have been a proponent of the environment as a the bigger contributor to the transmission of infection I started in Infection Prevention. I am happy to see the volumes of work that have substantiated my position. I am curious however to the point you make at the end of your write up. How much of a role does the environment make as a percentage?

    We have recently done some process changes and we are hoping to answer this question comparing antimicrobial stewardship, hand hygiene and environmental cleaning. What is the percentage contribution to the overall problem in your opinion or do you feel it is case by case.




    • Thank-you Barley.

      I asked a similar question to a group of experts at the APIC 2012 meeting in preparation for a presentation that I gave there: ‘What is the percentage of all C. difficile transmission in hospitals that is mediated, directly or indirectly, by contamination of the inanimate environment?’. The responses ranged from 25-75%, which reflects the uncertainty on this question, even among the experts. My own estimate was 50% given that intervention studies have shown approximately a 50% reduction in C. difficile infection through enhanced disinfection.

      However, I do think this will change considerably for different pathogens in different scenarios. For example, if hand hygiene compliance is high, improvements in environmental hygiene may make relatively more impact than in settings where hand hygiene compliance is low. Also, the survival characteristics of the microbes involved will play a role. For example, non-fermenting Gram-negative bacteria such as Acinetobacter survive on surfaces much better than the Enterobacteriaceae, so I’d expect the role of the environment to be more important for the non-fermenters.

      The Salgado copper study suggests that the introduction of copper surfaces halved HAI. This suggests, prima facie, that surfaces contribute to at least 50% of HAI, which sounds implausible but may just turn out to true.


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