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Antibiotic resistance: too much of a good thing

UCI Health expert says decolonization is one of the most effective strategies

November 01, 2023

IN THE NEWS: Resistance to antibiotics is a growing and deadly threat worldwide.

According to a 2019 report published in the journal The Lancet, 1.27 million people globally died from infections that are unresponsive to antibiotics.

LAist 89.3 logo black and whiteIn the U.S., more than 35,000 people die each year because of such infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Susan Huang, the medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at UCI Health, spoke to LAist 89.3 about ways to combat the problem. Removing the presence of bacteria, known as decolonization, is one of the most effective tools, she says.

“We know that our own bacteria on our skin and our nose and our mouth can produce infections. The risk is always highest when we’re vulnerable: when we have surgery, when we have a rash, when we are in the nursing home or the hospital.

During this time, it has been shown in a series of studies we and others have done that reducing the amount of bacteria on your body during those moments can actually be highly effective in reducing infection.”

Huang is a nationally recognized expert on the prevention of healthcare associated infections whose protocols have been adopted in nursing homes, intensive care units and hospitals across the country.

Her most recent study, “Nursing Home Decolonization for Infection and Hospitalization Prevention” was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It found that nursing homes that use a chlorhexidine bathing routine to clean the skin, and an over-the-counter antiseptic to clean the nose, prevent serious infections and reduce the number of antibiotic-resistant organisms in the nursing home setting.

The studies add to a growing body of Huang’s research funded by AHRQ and other U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies that show universal decolonization can be an effective tool to prevent infections for at-risk populations in the healthcare system. The REDUCE MRSA Trial found that decolonizing all intensive care unit (ICU) patients with chlorhexidine and nasal mupirocin decreased all-cause bloodstream infections by nearly half.

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