New Study: Meat The Source of Common Hospital Infections

Just where the multiple-infection carrying bacteria known as Klebsiella pneumoniae comes from has been a mystery to scientists for some time now. However, scientists at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TIGR) in Flagstaff, Arizona have recently found the source of Klebsiella pneumoniae–a bacteria that can cause some of the most common hospital infections in the medical field. According to a new paper, researchers believe the increasingly resilient pathogen to come from an unlikely source: store-bought meat.


According to the Center for Disease Control , Klebsiella is a type of bacteria that can cause multiple types of common hospital infections. Known to take root in the guts of unwary patients, Klebsiella is known to bring about pneumonia, bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, and meningitis. This strain of bacteria has been noted by medical professionals as becoming more and more resilient to antibiotics, leading the CDC to rank Klebsiella as an “urgent health threat–” a title that suggests immediate attention and awareness from patients and healthcare professionals worldwide.


Klebsiella is the cause of some of the most common hospital-acquired infections, known to spread among hospital patients who carry the bacteria in their lower intestines, before it escapes their guts in diarrhea, typically brought about as a result of antibiotic use. This bacteria can spread wildly in a hospital setting, as unwashed hands can leave particles on another’s clothes or skin, as well as on hospital walls or healthcare equipment. The CDC states that this particular bacteria is not spread through the air, and is thus unable to be transmitted simply by breathing it in. However, according to recent studies by TIGR, the consumption of processed and store-bought meat may be a large source for the introduction of the bacteria to the intestines of patients. Lance Price , PhD, director of the TGen North’s Center for Microbiomics and senior author of the study, recently stated: “In this case, we see pretty compelling evidence that food can serve as a source of exposure to Klebsiella, one of the most important opportunistic pathogens in the United States.”


The researchers in Flagstaff, Arizona conducted a study involving the testing of supermarket-meat–508 packages of turkey, chicken, and pork–as well as thousands of blood and urine samples taken from hospital patients for the pathogen. The results of the study show Klebsiella to be present in both store-bought meat as well as human samples–and what’s more, they appear to be nearly identical on a molecular level. This indicates that the pathogen’s origin may be traced back to the farms at which hospital patients buy their meat from. Researchers speculate that this may be the reason for the bacteria’s strange resilience against antibiotics, as the meat produced on such farms are subject to routine antibiotic treatments, where the strain is able to build a tolerance, before spreading to hospital settings. This is important, as up until recently, it was accepted that the bacteria’s tolerance was due to routine medical exposure in hospitals. Price believes this new finding to be “Just more evidence that antibiotic use in food animals poses a significant threat to public health.”

The CDC urges anyone who may feel they have Klebsiella pneumoniae or any of its common hospital infections contact a healthcare professional immediately.


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