Study Reveals How Two Strains of One Bacterium Combine to Cause Flesh-Eating Infection

In recent years, scientists have found that serious infections that progress rapidly and resist treatment are often caused by multiple microbes interacting with one another. Very little is known about these so-called “polymicrobial infections,” but traditional diagnostic methods often misidentify them as monomicrobial, or single-microbe, infections. A new study by a team of scientists that included researchers from the University of Maryland, the University of Texas Medical Branch, and CosmosID, Inc., used genetic analysis to reveal how two different strains of a single species of flesh-eating bacteria worked in concert to become more dangerous than either one strain alone. The study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on November 11, 2019. The article is titled “T6SS and ExoA of Flesh-Eating Aeromonas Hydrophila In Peritonitis And Necrotizing Fasciitis During Mono- And Polymicrobial Infections.” "This research provides clear evidence that a very severe infection considered to be caused by a single species of a naturally occurring bacterium actually had two strains," said Rita Colwell (photo), PhD, a Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and a co-author of the study. "One of the strains produces a toxin that breaks down muscle tissue and allows the other strain to migrate into the blood system and infect the organs." The original infection--cultured from a patient who developed the severe flesh-eating disease known as necrotizing fasciitis--was diagnosed as a monomicrobial disease. Traditional diagnostics could only determine that the infection was caused by a single species of bacteria called Aeromonas hydrophila.
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