Studies to Tackle Superbugs in Aged Care

Research into antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs is being conducted in Australia to understand its manifestations. This initiative is deemed necessary and important due to the alarming increase of infection among aged care patients.

Two research projects on antimicrobial resistance are now being funded and researchers and medical professionals aim to provide strategies and a policy guide to reduce its spread.

A closer look at the threat
Superbugs are strains of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotic drugs. This means they can't easily be eliminated by common drugs. This type of bacteria threatens people with diseases, including pneumonia, skin infections, and urinary infections.

Antibiotics are powerful medicines that kill bacteria and prevent their growth. These substances were first introduced in the 1930s when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. This discovery was revolutionary for medicine and chemical alterations soon soared.

Many bacteria have changed and adapted over time resulting in the weakening of antibiotics. Species of bacteria have evolved so much that only a small subset of them are susceptible. Antibiotic resistance has increased so much that the term ‘antibiotic apocalypse’ has now become widely used.

Immunity in aged care facilities
Due to the vulnerability of aged care facilities they should be routinely monitored for antimicrobial management. Health workers are alarmed that elders not only live near each other, on top of their many medical conditions, most patients also have very poor immune systems and often frequent hospital.

There is also heightened risk of infection spread through the frequent transfers, especially since there are already records of drug-resistant bacteria among aged care patients. Therefore high use of antibiotics among them makes this group the most vulnerable.

Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund
Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund has allocated funds for these research projects under the 'Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance' program. Led by Associate Professor Geraint Rogers from South Australian Medical Research and Dr. Henrietta Venter of the University of South Australia, both projects seek to understand the transmission of antimicrobial resistance in aged care facilities.

Professor Rogers analysed samples from 400 residents across ten aged care facilities. The research aims to determine the different modes of transmission of the resistant bacteria, and thus, be able to inform health workers of strategies to limit its spread in the facilities.

Dr. Venter's team will measure the spread in nearby wastewater from three facilities. Their goal is to assess the risk of spread, which will be the basis for developing policy controls and guides.

It is hoped that these studies will help in understanding how antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections manifest and medical professionals are very keen in improving outcomes and a sustainable system to help improve the health and quality of life of the elderly.