TB is spread by inhaling tiny airborne droplets from an infected person. The bacteria can survive in the lungs for long periods without causing symptoms – known as latent infection.
“Multi-drug resistant TB is a real problem in the UK,” said Dr Graham Cooke, lead author of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London. “It takes a lot of time, effort and resources to treat, and treatment is less successful.”
Admission records established that both patients were admitted on the same medical ward in a UK hospital for eight days in 2008. As is typical with TB, the infection didn’t manifest itself in the second patient until four years later, when he was admitted to hospital and ultimately succumbed to the infection.
“Genetic sequencing enabled us to establish beyond reasonable doubt that a patient who died of multidrug-resistant TB caught the infection from another patient at a hospital in the UK,” said Dr Cooke. “Genome sequencing of pathogens is becoming part of routine practice for establishing transmission patterns for TB and other infectious diseases. This sort of analysis will help to improve our understanding of how diseases spread and identify more effective ways to stop them.
“In this case, the infection was traced to a healthcare worker. At a time when Ebola is in the news this reminds us that healthcare workers are vulnerable to many infections and, if not diagnosed, have a high risk of passing them on.”
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Notes to editors:
1. Williams OM, et al. ‘Fatal nosocomial MDR TB identified through routine genetic analysis and whole-genome sequencing’ [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2106.141903
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