Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, and without development of new drugs, the world may some day face deaths from what were once simple infections. In their search for new antibiotics, researchers have now found a potential candidate in a surprising place: inside the human nose.
The research comes from Andreas Peschel and other researchers at University of Tuebingen in Germany, who published their findings July 27th in the journal Nature. The nose seems to resist infection by a particular pathogen, named Staphylococcus aureus, and the researchers set out to determine how.
Researchers normally look for new antibiotics in the soil and similar locations where bacteria live, finding substances that fend off the bacteria. The researchers in the current study thought the human nose might be a good place to look for new antibiotics, since it is a thriving ecosytem with about 50 different species of bacteria making their home in the nasal cavity. With all those bacteria, and the ability to resist certain infections, the researchers set out to isolate what substance in the nose helps fend off infection.
The researchers picked through nose samples of 187 hospital patients, ultimately isolating a substance called lugdunin, produced by Staphylococcus lugdunensis bacteria which live inside the nose. Of the patients with no S. lugdunensis bacteria in their nose, 34.7 percent had S. aureus living there, potentially causing an infection. However, of the patients who had S. lugdunensis as part of their nose microbiome, only 5.9 percent had the S. aureus too. This seemed to suggest that the S. lugdunensis were fending off the S. aureus, helping patients avoid this particular infection.
This lugdunin compound acts as an antibiotic, blocking S. aureus bacteria from making their home inside the nose. Scientists rarely find such compounds in the human microbiome, so it is an exciting discovery with the potential to fight infections resistant to current antibiotics.
The researchers believe they can use their discovery to develop new antibiotic drugs to treat S. aureus infections. These bacteria cause skin infections, which in some cases can be resistant to antibiotics, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA). Since they are not treatable with the usual methicillin antibiotics, these staph infections are difficult to beat, requiring powerful and expensive last-resort antibiotics to kill off the bacteria.
Hospital and nursing home patients often contract an MSRA infection, but the bacteria can also spread through contact sports or crowded places outside the hospital. These staph infections may begin as red, swollen, painful bumps on the skin that look like pimples or spider bites. The skin may feel warm, the bumps may be filled with pus or fluid, and the patient may have a fever. If untreated, these bumps can turn into deep abscesses that require surgery, and in the worst cases, the bacteria can dig deeper into the body. The patient could experience an infection in their wounds, bloodstream, bones, joints, lungs, and heart, turning this skin condition into something deadly. Doctors usually treat staph infections with antibiotics, but over the years some of these staph bacteria have developed a resistance to these antibiotics, and the drugs simply do not work.
If you suspect you have a staph infection, with a wound that looks infected or is accompanied by a fever, visit your doctor since most of these infections are treatable with antibiotics. To help avoid a staph infection, follow instructions to wear protective gear when visiting someone hospitalized with this type of infection. Wash your hands and keep any open wounds covered with a bandage to help avoid contracting an infection from others. You should also avoid sharing personal toiletry items, you should shower after participating in sports, and you should wash athletic clothes before wearing them again, preventing bacteria from taking hold.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat, and some experts worry that some day people may die of what used to be a simple infection. This resistance has developed partly from overuse of antibiotics, with doctors writing unnecessary prescriptions for viral infections and farmers feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals to prevent future infections. As bacteria reproduce, mutations will occur in the DNA, sometimes producing bacteria that have a natural resistance to antibiotics. While their fellow bacteria are killed off by the antibiotics, these resistant bacteria thrive and can spread from person to person.
As more bacteria become resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics, doctors are running out of drugs to try. At some point, doctors may be unable to treat infections, and these infections could take over the patient’s body. The discovery of lugdunin provides hope for treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MSRA, although the researchers warn that it could still take years to develop a new drug and bring it to market.