A study by Queensland researchers found the routine use of genomic testing could prevent a significant number of hospital-acquired infections and related deaths every year.

The study was funded by Queensland Health’s Queensland Genomics program.

Associate Professor Louisa Gordon from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, led the study which assessed the impact of using whole-genome sequencing (WGS) as part of routine surveillance in hospitals compared with standard microbiology testing over a five year period.

“We used WGS to check for six common bacteria which are resistant to multiple antibiotics and known to have serious consequences when hospital outbreaks occur,” she said.

“Because WGS gives us information on the complete genetic makeup of a pathogen, it helps infection control teams to identify outbreaks and pinpoint the source of infection.

“We analysed the genomic sequencing data from clusters of these multidrug-resistant bacteria that emerged across 27 Queensland hospitals.

“Compared with standard care, we found using WGS in routine surveillance could help prevent 36,726 patients a year from being infected or colonised with the six most common multidrug-resistant bacteria. That could help prevent 650 associated deaths from bloodstream infections.”

Researchers also analysed the costs to implement WGS in routine surveillance compared with standard of care.

“We found WGS would cost an additional $26.8 million a year to put into practice, however it would save $30.9 million a year due to a reduction in costs for cleaning, nursing, personal protective equipment, shorter hospital stays and antimicrobials,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

Dr Patrick Harris, infectious disease physician and Research Fellow at The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research said genomic sequencing of pathogens helps to track, treat and prevent hospital acquired infections and is overhauling the way we respond to and prevent outbreaks.

“Hospital-acquired infections are a fact of life in healthcare systems across the world. Nearly 100 000 patients are infected or colonised with potentially serious bacterial infections in Queensland hospitals each year, costing the government $171 million per year to manage,” he said.

“Incorporating WGS into routine surveillance would allow us to put in place infection control measures that are more targeted, as it takes some of the educated guesswork out of managing an outbreak.

“Much like how WGS has allowed us to track COVID-19 variants and link cases, sequencing bacterial genomes can also be used to determine the pathway of infections, and who or what infected who, not just identify related cases.

“Investing in the routine use of WGS must be a priority for the control of serious hospital acquired infections.”

The study, which was a collaboration between QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Queensland, was published in the journal BMJ Open.