Bacterial DNA sequence used to map an infection outbreak

For the first time, researchers have used DNA sequencing to help bring an infectious disease outbreak in a hospital to a close.

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals used advanced DNA sequencing technologies to confirm the presence of an ongoing outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a 'special care baby unit' in real time.

This helped in stopping the outbreak earlier, saving possible harm to patients. This approach is much more accurate than current methods used to detect hospital outbreaks.

Using this technology, the team revealed that the outbreak had extended into the wider community, a conclusion that could not be reached with available methods. They also used sequencing to link the outbreak to an unsuspecting carrier, who was treated to eradicate MRSA.

"We are always seeking ways to improve our patient care and wanted to explore the role that the latest sequencing technologies could play in the control of infections in hospitals," says Dr Nick Brown, author, consultant microbiologist at the Health Protection Agency and infection control doctor at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. "Our aim is to prevent outbreaks, and in the event that they occur to identify these rapidly and accurately and bring them under control.

"What we have glimpsed through this pioneering study is a future in which new sequencing methods will help us to identify, manage and stop hospital outbreaks and deliver even better patient care."