Extended spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL)-producing Klebsiella pneumoniae remain a critical clinical concern worldwide. Dr Founou and colleagues carried out a study aiming at characterizing ESBL-producing K. pneumoniae  within and between two hospitals in uMgungundlovu district, South Africa, using whole genome sequencing (WGS). In an observational period prevalence study on antibiotic-resistant ESKAPE (i.e. Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter spp.) bacteria, the researchers collected samples from hospitalized patients during a two-month period in 2017.

Rectal swabs and clinical specimens were collected from patients hospitalized and were screened for ESBL-producing, Gram-negative ESKAPE bacteria using cefotaxime-containing MacConkey agar and ESBL combination disk tests. Nine confirmed ESBL-K. pneumoniae isolated from six patients and two hospitals were whole genome sequenced using an Illumina MiSeq platform. Genome sequences were screened for presence of integrons, insertion sequences, plasmid replicons, CRISPR regions, resistance genes and virulence genes using different software tools.

Of the 159 resistant Gram-negative isolates collected, 31 (19.50%) were ESBL-producers, of which, nine (29.03%) were ESBL-K. pneumoniae. The nine K. pneumoniae isolates harboured several β-lactamase genes, including blaCTX-M-15, blaTEM-1b, blaSHV-1, blaOXA-1 concomitantly with many other resistance genes e.g. acc(6′)-lb-cr, aadAI6, oqxA and oqxB that confer resistance to aminoglycosides and/or fluoroquinolones, respectively. Three replicon plasmid types were detected in both clinical and carriage isolates, namely ColRNAI, IncFIB(K), IncF(II). Sequence type ST152 was confirmed in two patients (one carriage isolate detected on admission and one isolate implicated in infection) in one hospital. In contrast, ST983 was confirmed in a clinical and a carriage isolate of two patients in two different hospitals.

The study indicates introduction of ESBL-producing K. pneumoniae isolates into hospitals from the community. We also found evidence of nosocomial transmission within a hospital and transmission between different hospitals. The Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-associated cas3 genes were further detected in two of the nine ESBL-KP isolates. This study showed that both district and tertiary hospital in uMgungundlovu District were reservoirs for several resistance determinants and highlighted the necessity to efficiently and routinely screen patients, particularly those receiving extensive antibiotic treatment and long-term hospitalization stay. It also reinforced the importance of infection, prevention and control measures to reduce the dissemination of antibiotic resistance within the hospital referral system in this district.