Monoclonal antibodies, the brown stuff, and preventing recurrent C. difficile infection

A fantastic NEJM study by Mark Wilcox et al. brings monoclonal antibodies* to the party in preventing recurrent C. difficile infection. In this hugely impressive RCT (well, two squashed together actually), patients who received bezlotoxumab (a monoclonal antibody against C. difficile toxin B) were significantly less likely to suffer recurrent CDI (17% for bezlotoxumab vs 27% for placebo).

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Should we throw out the chlorhexidine with the bathwater?

Noto chg

Following hot on the heels of a series of studies showing that daily bathing using chlorhexidine reduces the risk of HCAI, a recent study suggests that chlorhexidine daily bathing does not reduce HCAI. The headline finding is that chlorhexidine bathing did not reduce HCAI. Before throwing out the chlorhexidine with the bathwater, it’s worth considering the limitations of the study.

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What works to control antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the ICU? A two-for-the-price-of-one study

Not content with a single well-planned study to provide information on what works to control multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) in the ICU, the MOSAR study group published an interrupted time series and a cluster randomized trial of various interventions in the Lancet ID. This makes the study rather complex to read and follow, but there are a number of important findings.

Interrupted time series – ‘hygiene’ intervention (chlorhexidine and hand hygiene)

Following a 6-month pre-intervention period, a 6-month interrupted time series of a ‘hygiene’ intervention (universal chlorhexidine bathing combined with hand-hygiene improvement) was performed. The key outcomes were twofold: whether there was a change in trend during each phase, and whether there was a step-change between the phases. The hygiene intervention effected a trend change reduction in all MDROs combined and MRSA individually, but not in VRE or ESBLs (Table). However, there was no step-change compared with the baseline period.

Table: Summary of reduced acquisition of all MDROs combined, or MRSA, VRE and ESBLs individually.

Derde table

Cluster RCT – screening and isolation

In the 12-month cluster RCT of screening and isolation, the 13 ICUs in 8 European countries were randomized to either rapid screening (PCR for MRSA and VRE plus chromogenic media for ESBL-Enterobacteriaceae) or conventional screening (chromogenic media for MRSA and VRE only). When analysed together, the introduction of rapid or conventional screening was not associated with a trend or step-change reduction in the acquisition of MDROs (Table).  In fact, there was an increase in the trend of MRSA acquisition. When comparing rapid with conventional screening, rapid screening was associated with a step-change increase in all MDROs and ESBLs.


  • The study suggests, prima facie, not to bother with screening and isolation. Indeed, the authors conclude: “In the context of a sustained high level of compliance to hand hygiene and chlorhexidine bathing, screening and isolation of carriers do not reduce acquisition rates of multidrug-resistant bacteria, whether or not screening is done with rapid testing or conventional testing”. However, the major limitation here is that many of the ICUs were already doing screening and isolation during the baseline and hygiene intervention phases! I checked the manuscript carefully (including the supplemental material) to determine exactly how many units were, but it is not disclosed. To make this conclusion, surely the cluster RCT should have been ‘no screening and isolation’ vs. ‘screening and isolation’.
  • The increasing trend of MRSA associated with screening and isolation by either method, and step-change increases in all MDROs and ESBLs associated with rapid screening are difficult to interpret. Is an increase in acquisition due to screening and isolation plausible? Can more rapid detection of carriers really increase transmission (the turnaround time was 24 hours for rapid screening, and 48 hours for chromogenic screening)? The rapid screening arm also included chromogenic screening for ESBLs, whereas the conventional screening arm did not, so perhaps this apparent increase in acquisition is due to improved case ascertainment somehow?
  • Looking at the supplemental material, a single hospital seemed to contribute the majority of MRSA, with an increasing trend in the baseline period, and a sharp decrease during the hygiene intervention. There’s a suspicion, therefore, that an outbreak in a single ICU influenced the whole study in terms of MRSA. Similarly, a single hospital had a sharp increase in the ESBL rate throughout the screening intervention period, which may explain, to a degree, the increasing trend of ESBL in the rapid screening arm.
  • There was an evaluation of length of stay throughout the study phases, with a significant decrease during the hygiene intervention (26%), a significant increase during the rapid screening intervention, and no significant change during the conventional screening intervention. It seems likely that improved sensitivity of rapid screening identified more colonized patients who are more difficult to step down, resulting in an overall increase in length of stay.
  • The carriage of qacA and qacB was compared in the baseline and hygiene intervention phase, finding no difference in carriage rate (around 10% for both). This does not match our experience in London, where carriage rates of qacA increased when we introduced universal chlorhexidine bathing. However, this was restricted to a single clone; the acquisition of genes associated with reduced susceptibility to chlorhexidine seems to be clone-specific.
  • ICUs varied from open plan to 100% single rooms. Whilst the average proportion of patients in single rooms (15-22%) exceeded the average requirement of patients requiring isolation (around 10%), there was no measure of unit-level variation of single room usage. Since the study was analysed by cluster, the lack of single rooms on some units could have been more important than would appear from looking at the overall average. Put another way, a 100% open plan unit would have been forced to isolate all carriers on the open bay, and vice versa for a 100% single room unit.
  • The impact of the various interventions was moderate, even though a ‘high’ MRDO rate was necessary for enrollment (MRSA bacteraemia rate >10%, VRE bacteraemia rate >5%, or ESBL bacteraemia rate >10%). Would the impact of screening and isolation be different on a unit with a lower rate of MDROs? It’s difficult to tell.
  • Some of the microbiology is quite interesting: 8% of MRSA were not MRSA and 49% of VRE were not VRE! Also, 29% of the ESBLs were resistant to carbapenems (although it’s not clear how many of these were carbapenemase producers).

In summary, this is an excellent and ambitious study. The lack of impact on ESBL transmission in particular is disappointing, and may lead towards more frequent endogenous transmission for this group. The results do indicate screening and isolation did little to control MDRO transmission in units with improved hand hygiene combined with universal chlorhexidine. However, we need a ‘no screening and isolation’ vs. ‘screening and isolation’ cluster RCT before we ditch screening and isolation.

Article citation: Derde LP, Cooper BS, Goossens H et al. Interventions to reduce colonisation and transmission of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in intensive care units: an interrupted time series study and cluster randomised trial. Lancet Infect Dis 2014; 14: 31-39.