University of Houston (UH) researchers are working to develop improved screening methods to detect the multi-drug resistant bacterium carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) after the first cases were confirmed in the state last year. The bacterium is endemic to the northeastern United States, although it has also made its way to California. The researchers recently published a report about the confirmed Texas cases in the journal Diagnostic Microbiology & Infectious Disease.

The bacterium can cause an array of infections, including pneumonia, and bloodstream and urinary tract infections. Although K. pneumoniae is naturally found in the intestinal tract and relatively harmless to health individuals, it can lead to potentially deadly infections in people with weakened immune systems, such as patients in ICUs, long-term care facilities, or nursing homes.

These bacteria are resistant to the carbapenem class of antibiotics, which are among the antimicrobials of last resort for this type of bacteria. As a result, clinicians managing the infection are left with few options but to employ more toxic drugs that pose an increased risk of damage to the kidneys or other organs.

According to the researchers, the automated systems used in clinical microbiology laboratories can misclassify certain bacteria as being susceptible to carbapenems, potentially leading to inappropriate treatment and unfavorable patient outcomes. More accurate outcomes for identifying these specific bacteria require time- and labor-intensive processes and are typically only available in research laboratories outside of the clinical setting, such as at the Centers for Disease Control and academic institutions such as UH.

The researchers are currently working to determine the prevalence of CRKP and to employ “promising” techniques for rapid and accurate detection of these bacteria in the clinical setting, as well as prevent its spread within the health care system.

Source: University of Houston