An outbreak of a virulent antibiotic bacteria was found to have “contaminated a whole ICU” in China, a study led by researchers from the University of Birmingham has reported. The team believes “carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii” — or “CRAB”, for short — was brought into the facility in Hangzhou on multiple occasions as patients were admitted. With antibiotic-resistant infections a major threat to global health, the team are calling for urgent measures to be taken to prevent hospitals from becoming breeding grounds for CRAB.

The incident was described in a study by microbial genomicist Professor Alan McNally of the University of Birmingham and his colleagues.

Prof. McNally said: “CRAB poses a serious risk to hospitalised patients and can cause severe disease including pneumonia, urinary tract infection, bacteraemia, meningitis, and soft tissue infections.”

All of these, he explained, “can be very difficult to treat due to the bacteria’s multidrug-resistance.

“The quantity of CRAB found in this intensive care unit highlights the urgent need for targeted infection prevention and control measures in healthcare facilities where such large accumulations of the bacteria are likely, so that we can stem the global spread of this pathogen.”

In their study, Prof. McNally and his colleagues took samples from across the entire ICU — including not only the physical environment but also from patients and medical staff.

They reported finding a “remarkable diversity” of CRAB in the facility, with 35 of 140 (mostly senior) patients tested found to be positive for the bacteria.

Of these, the team determined that 14 patients acquired CRAB during their stay in the intensive care unit.

The drug-resistant bacteria was found more frequently in, however, on beds than patients — with 55 percent of the units tested yielding a positive sample.

Furthermore, 30 percent of ventilators tested and 26 percent of dispensing trolleys were found to host CRAB.