Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in healthcare

Bacterial antibiotic-resistant infections lead to patients spending more time in hospital and result in higher medical costs. Antibiotic-resistant infections are responsible for approximately 700,000 deaths around the world each year.


Why is antibiotic resistance in hospitals such a problem?

There are many reasons for antibiotic resistance becoming rife within the hospital environment. Up to 50% of resistant infections are acquired by hospital patients. These infections are known as hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).

Each day, thousands of patients, employees and visitors arrive at hospitals, bringing with them their own range of bacteria – on their clothes, and on/inside their bodies. Hospitals have clear processes and policies to help keep spaces clean. However, if these aren’t strictly adhered to, bacteria will travel. This then supports the development of antibiotic resistance.

In addition, patients, visitors and hospital staff must practice much better hand hygiene. To wash hand effectively requires at least 20 seconds of scrubbing with warm soapy water under a running tap. Towels should not be used to dry hands unless they are single use.

Did you know?

ANTRUK campaigns for greater hospital cleanliness and an increase in the pay and status of hospital cleaners. These workers are our front line defence against transmission of infections, both within wards and between wards.

Bed linen needs to effectively laundered and personnel within a hospital should not be allowed to wander from area to area unnecessarily. Hospital staff in their uniforms sitting in the hospital cafe are a common sight, yet they are providing an easy way to spread infection around the facility.

Patients in hospital often lack the usual defences that keep us safe from infections; they may have a weak immune system, have wounds or require procedures that break the skin and allow bacteria inside the body, or be suffering from malnutrition, undue stress or fragility due to very young or very old age.

A typical path for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the subsequent spread throughout a healthcare facility could look like:

  • Patient receives antibiotics

  • The bacteria in the gut are killed, unless they have a gene for resistance

  • With little competition, those bacteria now flourish

  • The patient visits a hospital and uses the bathroom, failing to wash their hands properly

  • Someone else touches something this patient has been in contact with and contracts the resistant infection

The resistant bug can then spread from patient to patient. As well as on people, the bacteria can spread on medical equipment and into sterile, surgical environments. There, it can be incredibly harmful to health.

Washing your hands helps properly helps prevent antibiotic resistance in hospitals

Hospital superbugs

HAIs and superbugs are becoming increasingly common and claiming more and more lives. The following are some of the most prevalent superbugs, although there are others, and new bugs arise every year.

  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae (extended-spectrum β-lactamases)
  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
  • Multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter and Klebsiella
  • E.coli H30-Rx
bacterial growth in a medical test

What can healthcare workers do to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance in hospitals?

There are a number of ways that healthcare workers can prevent the spread of resistant bacteria. Only prescribing antibiotics when they are needed helps prevent antibiotic resistance arising in the first place, as does using the right type of antibiotics for each infection. Medical professionals should test samples prior to prescribing a treatment. This is much more effective than using ‘trial and error’ on popular antibiotics until one works. ANTRUK has an active research programme in this area.

Keeping the facilities clean and using sterile equipment is also important. Find out more with the World Health Organisation’s infographic on how healthcare workers can Prevent AMR in Surgery, or explore our What can I do? page to find out how you can help prevent antibiotic resistance.

Hospital staff in the canteen
Please help support crucial research into new antibiotic therapies and education programs to help ensure a safer future for you and your loved ones.