Researchers have turned to whole-genome sequencing to investigate how bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus spread throughout hospitals — in 2011, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute researchers traced a MRSA outbreak at Cambridge's Rosie Hospital to a new strain that spread to the parents of the children on the ward and one healthcare worker, Ian Sample writes at the Guardian.
David Aanensen at the Sanger Institute's Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance is developing an approach that he says would have enabled that hospital to understand that outbreak in days, rather than months, Sample reports.
"The outbreak in Cambridge, from the first few babies being treated, to the identification of the health worker, took months of hard work," Aanensen says. "The challenge now is to provide real-time interpretation tools for hospital staff to spot outbreaks much faster."
Under Aanensen's approach, when an outbreak is suspected, swabs are taken from patients and sent for whole-genome sequencing, Sample says. The sequences generated are then compared against a database to determine whether the outbreak strains harbor drug-resistance genes and to what antibiotics they may be susceptible. It also develops a phylogeny for the strains, showing how they are related to each other as well as to other reported outbreaks across the world.
Hospitals in the UK are due to be adopting the system next year, Sample notes.
"Ultimately, the scientists want to do real-time, or close to real-time, tracking of diseases on a global scale," Sample says. "But that will mean high-tech sequencing machines and infrastructure in other countries."