NIH studying newly emerging Staphylococcus aureus strain

A team of National Institute of Health scientists and their colleagues are using household surveillance and genome sequencing to investigate a newly emerging type of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

The methicillin-resistant bacteria, which is known as livestock-associated ST398, has caused severe infections in Europeans who have had close contact with swine. While the original bacterium does not transmit well from person to person, a variant of the strain has surfaced as a cause of community-associated infections in multiple countries, including the United States, Canada and China.

Scientists have determined that the new strain, called ST398-NM, does efficiently transmit from human to human. The study charted multiple ways in which the bacterium has adapted to its hosts, including human-specific immune evasion genes and the ability to adhere well to human skin.

The authors of the study say that it is possible that the strain emerging in northern Manhattan, New York, could potentially acquire genes that make it resistant to methicillin. The scientists plan to continue the surveillance of ST398 globally, paying attention to its molecular adaptations. Their research will inform the community of the development of new surveillance and diagnostic strategies against the emerging pathogen.

The study was conducted at the Columbia University Medical Center and was led by Anne-Catrin Uhlemann. The researchers included colleagues from Columbia and St. George's University of London.