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Scientists from Lund University in Sweden collaborated with microbiologists in Ukraine to investigate bacterial resistance in war-wounded patients treated in hospitals. The findings, recently published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, indicate that a significant number of patients were afflicted with bacteria displaying an exceptionally high level of antibiotic resistance.

Professor Kristian Riesbeck, an expert in Clinical Bacteriology at Lund University, expressed astonishment at the resistant nature of the bacteria encountered, despite his extensive experience with patients and bacterial infections. He admitted that he had never encountered such resilient bacteria before.

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According to Riesbeck, there was no hesitation in extending assistance when Dr. Oleksandr Nazarchuk, a microbiologist at a university in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, reached out for help. The urgency in Ukraine necessitated an evaluation of the extent of antibiotic resistance among severely injured patients in hospitals.

Beyond the human suffering inflicted by the war in Ukraine, an invisible battle against resistant bacteria is being waged. This reality was brought to light as Kristian Riesbeck and his team examined samples from critically wounded patients, many of whom suffered from burn injuries. These patients contracted infections while hospitalized, primarily due to overwhelmed wards and devastated infrastructure.

A total of 141 individuals affected by the war, including 133 adults with war-related injuries and eight infants diagnosed with pneumonia, were included in the study. These patients were admitted to three different hospitals in Ukraine, where they underwent emergency surgeries and received intensive care to manage their conditions.

The research findings revealed a concerning trend among the collected samples. Numerous Gram-negative bacteria demonstrated resistance to broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents, including recently developed enzyme-inhibiting antibiotics that have yet to be released on the market. Alarmingly, nearly ten percent of the samples contained bacteria that exhibited resistance even to colistin, which is considered a “last-resort” antibiotic. This level of resistance had not been witnessed on such a scale before, although similar cases have been observed in India and China. Remarkably, six percent of all samples contained bacteria resistant to every antibiotic tested.

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carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) /CDC

Kristian Riesbeck emphasizes the critical challenges posed by resistant bacteria during times of war. He expresses particular concern regarding the resistance observed in Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria, as they can cause severe illness even in individuals with a healthy and fully functional immune system.

The unexpectedly high levels of resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae are a cause for great worry. While isolated cases with similar resistance have been reported in China, the magnitude of the situation in Ukraine surpasses anything observed before. While many countries are providing military aid and resources to Ukraine, it is equally crucial to assist in addressing this ongoing crisis. The risk of further spread of resistant bacteria is evident, posing a significant threat to the entire European region, according to Kristian Riesbeck’s remarks.

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