An infection that was thought to able to pass from person to person with cystic fibrosis seems not to be transmissible between children in hospital, find researchers at GOSH.
Previous research suggested that this infection could be ‘caught’ from other individuals with cystic fibrosis, leading to concerns about the risk of bringing children to clinic for appointments that are critically important for their management and care. The hope is that this new finding will reassure parents that this infection is only very rarely transmissible between patients and it is safe to bring their children to hospital for appointments.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) affects 10,000 people in the UK, around half of whom are children. People with the condition are known to be at greater risk of developing recurrent chest and lung infections, which can damage their lungs and worsen their condition. One such infection is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium abscessus. This infection causes a gradual but serious decline in lung function. The infection also often affects whether patients can be considered for a lung transplant and, while GOSH has carried out them out in children with the infection, some centres may not list them for transplant.
Research published in 2013 reported that this infection may be transmissible between patients with CF and led to the fear that the hospital environment, where lots of children with CF gather together, could be a dangerous place to be in terms of catching these bacteria from other patients. Some Hospitals and clinics started isolating patients with these infections in order to stop them spreading. Some parents were also concerned about coming to appointments that are so vital for monitoring their symptoms, progress and managing their condition.
Researchers at GOSH looked at 16 children with CF who contracted the Mycobacterium abscessus infection over a 10 year period and who had come into contact with each other at the hospital either as an inpatient or in CF clinic. They found that each child and young person had different strains of the bacteria, despite many opportunities to transmit the bacteria over many years and therefore this infection couldn’t have been passed between these patients. One sibling pair tested did show the same strain but the infection they developed occurred 12 years apart suggesting other causes are likely to be at play.
This research is published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Further work is now needed to help us discover the nature of the source of these bacteria, so we can better understand how and where they are caught in the first place.
Kathryn Harris, a Clinical Scientist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and lead researcher on the paper says, “This result is important as it steers research away from looking at this infection as being transmissible. This means that we can start exploring other avenues and possible causes.
“Pin pointing other causes could lead to simple interventions that could be put in place in order to prevent infections in the future.”
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Notes to Editors
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust is the country’s leading centre for treating sick children, with the widest range of specialists under one roof.
With the UCL Institute of Child Health, we are the largest centre for paediatric research outside the US and play a key role in training children’s health specialists for the future.