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vancomycin-eating bacteria

Gary Lum glum at ozemail.com.au
Mon May 8 05:56:42 EST 2000

Dilworth wrote:

> What kind of bacteria?  VRE, or vancomycin resistant enterococci are
> isolated in many laboratories nowadays, unfortunately.  Don't know about
> the "eating" comment; sounds rather unmicrobiological to me.  What do
> others in the NG say?  I am also cross-posting to sci.med.laboratory, as
> these folks work in hospital labs routinely.
> Judy Dilworth, M.T.(ASCP)
> Microbiology again!
> Frank wrote:
> > I know someone who works at a hospital in Brownsville, Texas who says
> > they have bacteria that are not only resistant to vancomycin, but
> > actually eat and grow off the stuff. Is this common?

The term you're looking for is vancomycin dependent.  They're well
described.  Find following one reference from ProMED from a while ago.  More
recent reports can be found in medline.

          PRO> Vancomycin dependent enterococcus - UK (02)
          Saturday, 7 December 1996
          "M. Wilks" <m.wilks at mds.qmw.ac.uk>
          promed at usa.healthnet.org
          ProMED-mail at usa.healthnet.org


Date: Saturday, December 7, 1996  3:14:23 MST
From: M. Wilks <m.wilks at mds.qmw.ac.uk>

[see 961206194240]

The full reference to the letter in the Lancet is


It may be necessary to access it through www.thelancet.com/
and then register on-line.

The letter reports an unusual, though not rare, laboratory phenomenon which,

as the authors themselves note, has been reported before for enterococci
(Rosato et al., 1995).  It is illustrated with a nice photograph, which is
the opposite of the usual kind of sensitivity test, so that as the
concentration of antibiotic increases, the bacteria grows more strongly.

The authors note that dependence upon the antibiotic renders the mutant not
only resistant to treatment but also undetectable unless it is specifically
looked for, necessitating a review of current practices.  However they do
suggest what they might be.

It is particularly unfortunate that the authors chose to finish their paper
with the rhetorical flourish -"Have we at last witnessed the emergence of a
true superbug?"; thus elevating an interesting laboratory phenomenon to the
status of yet another health panic.  This report has now attracted world
coverage with reports of antibiotic-munching bugs.

Rosato A, Pierre J, Billot-Klein D, Buu-Hoi, Gutmann L. Inducible and
constitutive expression of resistance to glycopeptides and vancomycin
dependence in-resistant _Enterococcus avium_.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother
1995; 4: 830-33.

Mark Wilks
Department of  Medical Microbiology
St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College,
West Smithfield, London, EC1A 7BE, UK
TEL: day ++ 44(0)171 601 8419 (office) or 8410 (lab)
FAX: ++ 44(0)171 601 8409
eve's ++ 44(0)181 802 5081 [Presumably, this is Dr. Wilks' night number, not

the telephone number of a lady named "eve".  I have some problems with
email: <m.wilks at qmw.ac.uk>

[Dr. Wilks is correct regarding the unfortunate nature of the hyperbolic
text.  ProMED has received reports and queries from some frightened people.
Mod CHC]

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Dr Gary Lum, Director of Pathology, Territory Health Services
Rocklands Drive, Tiwi NT 0810, Australia
Tel. 61889228034, Mob. 61419814490, Fac. 61889228843
mailto:glum at ozemail.com.au
Helping requesting practitioners to answer their diagnostic
questions, not just doing pathology tests.

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