Drug-resistant bacterium a danger to young patients

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 6:24am

A pneumonia-causing bacterium commonly found in Hong Kong children has become more drug resistant, a study found.

The researchers are calling for more hospital resources to do rapid testing on young patients with severe pneumonia, so drug-resistant cases can be identified quickly and suitable medication used earlier.

We're very concerned about the resistance in the Mycoplasma pneumoniae [bacterium]. This research highlights that a very serious problem is already with us in Hong Kong
Dr Ho Pak-leung, microbiologist

A team of microbiologists at the University of Hong Kong found that 74 per cent of the 91 patients in Queen Mary Hospital suffering mycoplasma pneumonia between 2010 and 2012 showed resistance to macrolide antibiotics, the most common medication to treat the infection.

"We're very concerned about the resistance in the Mycoplasma pneumoniae [bacterium]," said Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist on the research team. "This research highlights that a very serious problem is already with us in Hong Kong."

Five to 10 years ago, patients with this infection who could not be cured by macrolide antibiotics were very rare. But in the past few years, patients who did not recover in one to two weeks, even with the use of different antibiotics, had become more common, he said.

The bacterial infection causes about 10 to 30 per cent of pneumonia cases in children. It sometimes causes mass infections in kindergartens and primary schools. Symptoms are a fever, cough and headache.

The main problem with the bacterium being macrolideresistant was that these were the only suitable antibiotics for treating the infection in children under 18 years old, Ho said. There were two alternative drugs, but they had a certain toxicity to children, which might cause permanent teeth stains and damage to tendons and joints. "Without a test result to confirm drug resistance, doctors would not use these two drugs," he said.

Traditional diagnostic tests took a few days to produce results, but a rapid test, which was much more expensive, could give results in a few hours.

Ho said it was worthwhile to conduct these tests on severe pneumonia patients aged under eight, as delayed diagnosis and treatment usually caused conditions to deteriorate.

In one case last year, a six-year-old girl contracted the infection and was admitted to a private hospital and did not respond well to the five antibiotics administered. She was transferred to the Queen Mary Hospital and had a quick test which revealed a drug-resistant strain of pneumonia.

It was not until 15 days after she fell ill that the eighth antibiotic, one of the two not suitable for children, was prescribed and she recovered.