Researchers Identify Transmission of Carbapenemase-Producing C. freundii Clones in Hospital Plumbing

Hamerlinck, et al. (2023) report that accumulating evidence shows a role of the hospital wastewater system in the spread of multidrug-resistant organisms, such as carbapenemase producing Enterobacterales (CPE). Several sequential outbreaks of CPE on the geriatric ward of the Ghent University hospital have led to an outbreak investigation. Focusing on OXA-48 producing Citrobacter freundii, the most prevalent species, the researchers aimed to track clonal relatedness using whole genome sequencing (WGS). By exploring transmission routes the researchers say they wanted to improve understanding and (re)introduce targeted preventive measures.

Environmental screening (toilet water, sink and shower drains) was performed between 2017 and 2021. A retrospective selection was made of 53 Citrobacter freundii screening isolates (30 patients and 23 environmental samples). DNA from frozen bacterial isolates was extracted and prepped for shotgun WGS. Core genome multilocus sequence typing was performed with an in-house developed scheme using 3,004 loci.

The CPE positivity rate of environmental screening samples was 19.0% (73/385). Highest percentages were found in the shower drain samples (38.2%) and the toilet water samples (25.0%). Sink drain samples showed least CPE positivity (3.3%). The WGS data revealed long-term co-existence of three patient sample derived C. freundii clusters. The biggest cluster (ST22) connects 12 patients and 8 environmental isolates taken between 2018 and 2021 spread across the ward. In an overlapping period, another cluster (ST170) links eight patients and four toilet water isolates connected to the same room. The third C. freundii cluster (ST421) connects two patients hospitalized in the same room but over a period of one and a half year. Additional sampling in 2022 revealed clonal isolates linked to the two largest clusters (ST22, ST170) in the wastewater collection pipes connecting the rooms.

The researchers' findings suggest long-term circulation and transmission of carbapenemase producing C. freundii clones in hospital sanitary installations despite surveillance, daily cleaning and intermittent disinfection protocols. They propose a role for the wastewater drainage system in the spread within and between rooms and for the sanitary installations in the indirect transmission via bioaerosol plumes. To tackle this problem, a multidisciplinary approach is necessary including careful design and maintenance of the plumbing system.

Reference: Hamerlinck H, et al. Sanitary installations and wastewater plumbing as reservoir for the long-term circulation and transmission of carbapenemase producing Citrobacter freundii clones in a hospital setting. Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control. Vol. 12, article number 58 (2023).