Spread of carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae in an intensive care unit: a whole-genome sequence-based prospective observational study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Li Wei
  • Linfei Wu
  • Hongxia Wen
  • Yu Feng
  • Shichao Zhu
  • Ying Liu
  • Li Tang
  • Zhiyong Zong

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Sichuan University
  • State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy


The aim of this study was to determine the contribution of the contamination of the health care environment in the acquisition of carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) in a CRKP-prevalent setting. We performed a 3-month prospective study in a 20-bed medical intensive care unit (ICU) by collecting rectal/oral swabs from patients within 3 days of ICU admission and weekly thereafter. We also comprehensively sampled the beds and rooms of patients and instruments for patient care every week. CRKP were detected, genome sequenced, and assigned to clones based on core genome analyses. The survival of four CRKP clones was determined under ICU conditions. Seventeen patients were in the ICU at the start of the study, and 99 were admitted afterwards. Six were positive patients, with four detected on initial screening and two during weekly monitoring. CRKP was detected from 76 of 3,699 (2.1%) environment samples, including from the immediate surroundings of 21 patients (five had CRKP from clinical samples and 16 did not). CRKP was not detected outside patient care areas. Among 49 CRKP sequenced isolates (nine from swabs, five from clinical samples, and 35 from environment) from 21 patients, 45 were ST11 and had blaKPC-2. These could be assigned to four clones, with either KL47 (n = 22) or KL64 (n = 23) capsular type. The two dominant clones survived >30 days under ICU conditions. In conclusion, environmental contamination of CRKP was extensive but usually transient. It had little impact on CRKP acquisition by ICU patients, highlighting the ability to control CRKP transmission through infection prevention efforts even in high-prevalence settings. IMPORTANCE Klebsiella pneumoniae can be an opportunistic pathogen with the oral cavity and gut the main origin. However, carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) can be found in patient surroundings and is a serious threat for human infections. Although the hospital environment, particularly sinks, has long been considered a potential reservoir of CRKP, the exact role of environmental contamination contributing to the acquisition and transmission of CRKP among patients remains largely unknown. To understand the link between environmental contamination in health care settings and colonization and infection of patients by CRKP, we performed a 3-month prospective study in a 20-bed medical ICU. Isolates were collected by active patient screening and were subsequently genome sequenced to describe the diversity of CRKP and the linkage of patients and environmental reservoirs. We found that the environmental contamination of CRKP was extensive, and CRKP clones were freely circulating in the ICU. Environmental contamination was not due to sharing the bed unit or sharing contaminated instruments but more likely resulted from the movement of health care workers. Very few patients acquired CRKP in the ICU, which is likely due to the fact that environmental contamination was usually transient when a routine cleaning protocol was complied. Although CRKP contamination in patient surroundings may be extensive, as long as routine environment cleaning protocols are appropriate and well implemented, the health care environment is unlikely to be a major source of CRKP colonization and infection in ICU patients. Reducing the high workload for ICU nurses may help minimize CRKP environmental contamination.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00058-21
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021

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