Hunting superbugs in nursing homes

Bacteria growing on an agar petri dish. Stock photo.

Protecting senior citizens in residential aged care at risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria is the aim of two new research projects in South Australia.

The grants, announced by the Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt under the Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance program of the Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund, aim to increase understanding of how antimicrobial resistance is transmitted and spread in residential aged care facilities.

“The rise of so-called superbug infections is a challenge for health-care professionals, sometimes leaving them with limited or no available treatment options and is an increasing problem worldwide,” says Mr Wyatt.

“Reducing the threat and ensuring people in aged care are as safe as possible is a top priority, with a variety of factors contributing to both a high use of antibiotics and a heightened risk of infection, including from drug-resistant bacteria.

“These include the close living proximity of residents, multiple medical conditions, poor immune systems, poor mobility, and frequent transfer of residents to and from hospitals.”

The Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance research grants were awarded to:

  • Flinders University Association Professor Geraint Rogers – Director, Microbiome Research (Infection and Immunity) at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) – who will lead a $1.4 million project to analyse samples from 400 residents at 10 aged care facilities to determine the different modes of transmission of resistant bacteria. The findings will inform future strategies to limit the spread of antimicrobial resistance in old folks’ homes.
  • $1.1 million to a project led by University of SA researcher Dr Henrietta Venter to measure the spread of resistance bacteria, including in wastewater, from three residential aged care facilities. This research will inform antimicrobial resistance risk assessments and guide future policy controls to curb the spread of antimicrobial resistance to, within and from nursing homes.

Mr Wyatt says the research will help understand the spread within aged care homes, and between these facilities, hospitals and other settings.

“This will include the importance of visitors to aged care homes following management and medical advice and taking special care to avoid bringing infections into the facilities.”

Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund, a capital-preserved fund which will reach maturity at $20 billion beyond 2021, is a long-term source of funding for research and innovation to improve health incomes, quality of life and health system sustainability.



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