Pseudomonas are opportunistic pathogens that are found in many natural places. They are particularly plentiful in soil, plants, stagnant or surface water and in warm, moist areas. They also can make their home on food, faucet handles and sinks, bath toys, hot tubs, pools and flower water. An opportunistic pathogen is one that takes advantage of its host by exploiting any defect in their defence system and initiates an infection. For healthy individuals, coming into contact with Pseudomonas have little to no ill effects. For children, elderly or those with some type of immune system compromise, Pseudomonas can cause anything from a skin infection to eventually, death. This is especially true for those with cancer, severe burns and AIDS as well. A majority of the fatalities due to Pseudomonas in health care settings involve newborns, elderly and those with cancer, cystic fibrosis and burns. The fatality rate for these groups is near 50 percent. Pseudomonas thrive at temperatures from 37°C (98.6°F) to 42°C (107.6°F) making them impossible for the body’s own natural defence system to kill. This means that they also thrive in warm water which is usually somewhere between the same temperature range.
In December 2011, a baby died from Pseudomonas infection at a Londonderry hospital in Northern Ireland, and another three newborn babies died earlier this year from Pseudomonas infection at a neonatal clinic of a maternity hospital in Ireland, forcing the hospital to close down the facility while the source was being investigated. The newborn babies were all premature, and suffered from other complications, making them extremely vulnerable to Pseudomonas infection. In both cases, the Pseudomonas bacteria was discovered to originate from old taps, contaminating water that was used from the taps to wash the babies. The contaminated tap in one hospital was cleaned by a specialist cleaning crew, while the old taps at the second hospital were subsequently replaced. This just highlights the need for vigilance and frequent sampling for signs of Pseudomonas bacteria lurking in places where it may pose a health risk to compromised individuals, especially premature newborn babies.
A major issue in trying to fight infections caused by Pseudomonas is that they are resistant to most antibiotics and the few that are effective usually do not cover every strain of infection. Pseudomonas cause urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, bone and joint infections as well as a variety of systemic infections. Patients with cystic fibrosis (an incurable lung condition) are usually the hardest to treat if they can be treated at all. Almost every cystic fibrosis patient who becomes infected with a strain of Pseudomonas usually suffers from a strain that is so resistant it is futile to treat. It can cause endocarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) by invading the heart directly from the blood stream. Pseudomonas can cause pneumonia, and other respiratory infections that can be extremely hard to manage, if at all. Pseudomonas can infect the central nervous system causing bacterial meningitis and brain abscesses. It can also cause ear and sinus infections, especially in those that swim or are exposed frequently to wet, humid conditions. In short, it can affect every part of the body inside or out, causing an infection that can be difficult or even futile to manage. Unfortunately, most Pseudomonas bacteria are picked up in a hospital or nursing home setting where the health of the individual is compromised already. Pseudomonas actually account for about 25% of all hospital acquired infections.
Pseudomonas are all around us, but their increased prevalence in health care settings can mean an epidemic of possibly fatal infections. Newborns and extremely ill hospital patients are particularly susceptible to any type of infection because of immature or compromised immune systems. With an infection that thrives at normal body temperature, which is difficult to treat with most antibiotics, it can lead to fatal results. With healthy individuals not being affected by Pseudomonas they often go unnoticed until they infect an immunocompromised individual or newborn baby, who is not able to fight off the infection – often with fatal results.
For more information please contact Aqua Scotland on 01506 430164 or here.