infections

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Mass. Public Health Officials Looking Into Vaginal Hysterectomy Infections

The Boston Globe’s Liz Kowalczyk reports here:

Massachusetts public health officials have called together patient safety leaders to determine why hospitals reported a high rate of surgical infections among women who received vaginal hysterectomies over the past two years.

Hospitals reported 23 of these infections in 2010 and 25 in 2011 — out of 4,313 procedures total — about twice as many as expected based on national rates. Health officials said further investigation is needed to pinpoint the reasons.

The infection rates for vaginal hysterectomies emerged as health officials released report cards today for 71 hospitals, showing how many patients contract potentially serious infections from surgery and other medical care that is intended to heal them.

The numbers are highly preliminary and it’s not yet clear what they mean. Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, director of the state’s Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, said after yesterday’s Public Health Council meeting, at which the numbers were released:

“One interesting finding is that for the surgical procedure called vaginal hysterectomy where a woman’s uterus is removed, there was a higher than expected rate of infection across the board in the commonwealth. Putting the data forth in this matter allowed us to identify that as an area for concern.

We think that there’s work to be done in terms of understanding how much of the increase in rate is related to actual increases in numbers of infections versus what could actually be a difference in the way the technique is being done. Surgical technique has changed, and we need to make sure that we capture the information correctly based on the changes in the technique. Continue reading

A ‘Spoonful Of Sugar’ Could Help Antibiotics Kill Bugs

You know that sinking feeling. Your bladder is feeling constantly full, announcing the return of your urinary tract infection. Or your baby is screaming again, just as he screamed the last time he had an ear infection. Or your teenager says, “My throat is hurting — feels like the strep is back.”

Certain bacterial infections have an infuriating tendency to recur even after they’re treated with antibiotics, and scientists have determined a key reason why: A few of the bugs go into a dormant state that protects them from antibiotics. Known as “persisters,” they are the bacterial villains behind those pesky infections that just keep coming back.

Today in the journal Nature, researchers report discovering a surprisingly sweet method to get rid of those nasty persisters. From the Boston University press release:

James Collins, a pioneering researcher in the new field of systems biology and a MacArthur Genius, says: “You know the old saying: ‘a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down?’ This is more like ‘a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine work.’

Dr. Collins, a professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, is talking about his recent development of an effective, low-cost – and surprising – way to treat chronic bacterial infections, such as staph, strep, tuberculosis, and infections of the urinary tract.

Boston University professor of biomedical engineering Jim Collins

He and his team of scientists discovered that a simple compound – sugar – dramatically boosts the effectiveness of first-line antibiotics. Their findings appear in the May 12 issue of Nature (online May 11th).

Dr. Collins, 45, who is also a founder of the new field of synthetic biology, has a personal interest in this research. His 71 year old mother, Eileen Collins, was hospitalized several times in recent years with recurrent bouts of a serious staph infection. Doctors treated her with multiple intravenous antibiotics and still the infection could not be killed. It was his mother’s suffering that added urgency to Dr. Collins’ research.

You’ve probably heard about the looming problem of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics largely because the drugs are so heavily prescribed these days. Persisters are different, the release explains: Continue reading