Soldiers acquired drug-resistant infections in field hospitals

An outbreak of drug-resistant wound infections among soldiers in Iraq likely came from the hospitals where they were treated, not the battlefield, according to a new study in the June 15 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, currently available online.

The outbreak of drug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii-calcoaceticus complex (ABC) infections among U.S. service members injured in Iraq has been of major concern to military health care workers since it was first detected in 2003. ABC bacteria are commonly found in soil and water. They sometimes also exist on the skin of healthy people. The bacteria pose little risk to healthy people. However, those with open wounds or weakened immune systems are at greater risk of ABC infection. An ABC infection can cause or contribute to death, especially if the patient is immunosuppressed.

Historically, ABC infections were treated with a wide variety of drugs. Unfortunately, in recent years, strains of Acinetobacter have been emerging that are resistant to nearly all known remedies. The ABC infections found among the U.S. service members are of this type, known as multi-drug resistant (MDR).

Between March and October 2003, researchers from the Army and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 145 inpatients at U.S. military treatment facilities infected or colonized with ABC. The researchers attempted to identify the source(s) of the outbreak. They tested for the presence of ABC on the skin of casualties treated in or evacuated from Iraq. They tested soil samples taken near field hospitals in Iraq and from locations throughout Iraq and Kuwait. And they looked at samples taken from in and around patient-treatment areas in five field hospitals in Iraq and two in Kuwait.

They found ABC in only one out of 49 soil samples and just one out of 160 samples from soldiers skin. By contrast, ABC organisms were found in the patient treatment areas of all seven field hospitals sampl

Contact: Steve Baragona
Infectious Diseases Society of America

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