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Research takes aim at NT super bug

By Lucy Barnard

Menzies infectious diseases specialist, Dr Josh Davis says the NT super bug is a very serious infection Menzies infectious diseases specialist, Dr Josh Davis says the NT super bug is a very serious infection

Results from a pioneering Northern Territory-based research project have revealed that the risk of death from the potentially deadly pneumonia-causing super bug, Acinetobacter, has been drastically reduced.

The findings, which reveal a drop in mortality from 64 per cent to 11 per cent, stem from new routine treatment protocols first introduced in the 1990s and evaluated as part of a collaborative research project between the Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies) and Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH).

Menzies infectious diseases specialist, Dr Josh Davis explained that the Acinetobacter bacterium was a major cause of severe pneumonia in tropical Australia.

“Acinetobacter is a significant cause of community-acquired pneumonia in tropical and subtropical regions with the majority of cases (88 per cent) occurring in the wet season,” Dr Davis said.

“It is a very severe infection with most people (80 per cent) requiring admission to the intensive care unit.

“We also found that nearly all affected patients (82 per cent) had risk factors, most commonly excessive alcohol use.”

Head of Menzies’ Global and Tropical Health Division, RDH Infectious Diseases Physician and senior author, Professor Nick Anstey said the standard treatments for pneumonia were ineffective against Acinetobacter.

“People at risk need to be recognised early and immediately treated with antibiotics targeting Acinetobacter. We previously identified this infection as a major cause of death from pneumonia at RDH in the 1980s and early 1990s and as a result introduced a new antibiotic treatment plan for at-risk people with pneumonia,” Professor Anstey said.

“Combined with excellent clinical care, the new protocol has proved very successful. Following its introduction, the chance of dying from this disease has been reduced from 64 to 11 per cent. The treatment that has saved lives in at-risk people has been the addition of an old antibiotic, gentamicin, to routine antibiotic protocols at RDH.”

The results come as welcome news to Territory health professionals and communities preparing for the upcoming wet season.

“This is another example of local research out of Menzies and RDH saving lives in the Territory - with global implications for the treatment of pneumonia in other high prevalence tropical regions in the Asia-Pacific,” Professor Anstey said.