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Study finds the use of genomic testing in infection control could save 650 lives a year in Queensland

A Queensland study has found the routine use of genomic testing could prevent a significant number of hospital-acquired infections and related deaths every year. 

The study was funded by Queensland Health’s Queensland Genomics program.

Lead researcher and the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Health Economics group, Associate Professor Louisa Gordon, said they predicted the impact of using whole-genome sequencing (WGS) as part of routine surveillance in hospitals over a five-year period and compared it with standard microbiology testing.

“We used WGS to check for six common bacteria which are resistant to multiple antibiotics and known to have serious consequences when hospital outbreaks occur,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

“Whole-genome sequencing provides information on the complete genetic makeup of a bacterium or virus, and so can help infection control teams to identify outbreaks and pinpoint the source of infection.

“We analysed the genomic sequencing data from clusters of these multidrug-resistant bacteria that emerged across 27 Queensland hospitals.

“Compared with standard care, we found using WGS in routine surveillance could help prevent 36,726 patients a year from being infected or colonised with the six most common multidrug-resistant bacteria. That could help prevent 650 associated deaths from bloodstream infections.”

Researchers also analysed the costs of implementing WGS in routine surveillance compared with standard of care.

“We found WGS would cost an additional $26.8 million a year to put into practice. However it would save $30.9 million a year due to a reduction in costs for cleaning, nursing, personal protective equipment, shorter hospital stays and antimicrobials,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

Infectious disease physician and Research Fellow at The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Dr Patrick Harris, said genomic sequencing of pathogens helps to track, treat and prevent hospital-acquired infections, and is overhauling the way we respond to and prevent outbreaks.

“Hospital-acquired infections are a fact of life in healthcare systems across the world. Nearly 100 000 patients are infected or colonised with potentially serious bacterial infections in Queensland hospitals each year, costing the Government $171 million per year to manage,” he said.

“Incorporating WGS into routine surveillance would allow us to put in place infection control measures that are more targeted, as it takes some of the educated guesswork out of managing an outbreak.

“Much like how WGS has allowed us to track COVID-19 variants and link cases, sequencing bacterial genomes can also be used to determine the pathway of infections, and who or what infected whom, not just identify related cases.

“Investing in the routine use of WGS must be a priority for the control of serious hospital-acquired infections.”

The study was a collaboration between QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Queensland. The findings have been published in the journal BMJ Open.