Lynn Hancock, assistant professor in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University has been awarded a grant of almost $1.5 million to study the antibiotic resistance of enterococci, a type of bacteria commonly found in hospitals.
"In U.S. hospitals today there are reported to be upward of 2.5 million infections annually for people who came to a hospital to be treated for one thing, but before they are sent home they've acquired a secondary infection," said Lynn Hancock, assistant professor in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University.
The grant, which is for the next five years, is from the National Institutes of Health, Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Hancock said 10 to 12 percent of hospital-acquired infections, called nosocomial infections, are from enterococcus. Although not as severe or as numerous as the more commonly known staph infection, doctors are running out of therapeutic options for enterococcal infections.
"Some are resistant to just about every antibiotic we can throw at them and we are going to reach an era that many doctors and scientists think will be similar to the pre-antibiotic era, when we didn't have any way to really treat an infection," Hancock said. "Sadly, we don't do an adequate job of reporting the cause of death from infection; in many cases it is simply reported as complications from surgery."
Although enterococci are naturally found in the intestinal tract, outside the intestinal walls they can cause endocarditis, meningitis or bladder, prostate and urinary-tract infections, Hancock said. Routine hospital procedures also can facilitate the transmission of bacteria from patient to patient.
Under normal circumstances these infections could be eliminated by using antibiotics. Enterococci, however, like many other types of bacteria, have developed the ability to form 3-D tower-like structures called biofilms, which enable them to resist both antibiotic penetration and host's immune system.