Public health: Raised resistance

Andrew Jack:

A researcher works on new antibiotics to combat bacteria, which are becoming an increasingly globalised threat as international travel increases

Every morning when she arrives at Hygeia hospital in Athens, Helen Giamarellou, a senior doctor, starts her day by walking the wards, checking on hygiene and quizzing staff as she attempts to prevent a deadly infection spreading across southern Europe.

Even before the financial crisis added to the difficulties, Greece was on the frontline of what she calls “a killer strain” of the Klebsiella pneumoniae bacterium resistant to the carbapenems, a class of potent “last-line” antibiotics used to treat infections when all other drugs fail to work.

Since 2009, when it was first detected in Europe in nearly half of the dozens of hospital patients tested, the strain has spread from Greece to many other EU countries, threatening the treatment and survival of those with problems such as bloodstream and urinary tract infections.