New MRSA superbug emerges in Brazil

April 21, 2014

An international research team led by Cesar A. Arias, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, has identified a new bacterium that caused a bloodstream infection in a Brazilian patient. The report appeared recently in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The new bacterium is part of a class of highly resistant bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  It has also acquired high levels of resistance to vancomycin. Genomic analyses indicated that this novel vancomycin-resistant MRSA bacterium belongs to a genetic lineage that is commonly found outside hospitals (designated community-associated MRSA). Since community-associated MRSA is thought to be transmitted mainly by skin contact, the new infection may affect not only sick or immunocompromised patients but also healthy individuals.

“This is the first-ever reported bloodstream infection caused by a highly vancomycin-resistant MRSA bacterium,” Arias says. “If we lose vancomycin, it would make it very difficult and expensive to treat these infections.”

Arias and his colleagues conducted microbiological and genetic analyses of a MRSA superbug recovered from the blood of a 35-year-old Brazilian man and identified a novel transferable genetic element (plasmid) that carries the genes necessary for vancomycin resistance (vanA gene cluster).

“The presence and dissemination of community-associated MRSA containing vanA could become a serious public health concern,” report the study authors. However, since this is the only documented case of this type of infection, Arias says, it is too early to tell if this specific bacterium will lead to a bigger threat. Read the article preview.

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