BACKGROUND Large reductions in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile have been observed in response to multifaceted hospital-based interventions. Reductions in antibiotic-sensitive strains have been smaller or non-existent. It has been argued that since infection control measures, such as hand hygiene, should affect resistant and sensitive strains equally, observed changes must have largely resulted from other factors, including changes in antibiotic use. We used a mathematical model to test the validity of this reasoning. METHODS We developed a mechanistic model of resistant and sensitive strains in a hospital and its catchment area. We assumed the resistant strain had a competitive advantage in the hospital and the sensitive strain an advantage in the community. We simulated a hospital hand hygiene intervention that directly affected resistant and sensitive strains equally. The annual incidence rate ratio (IRR) associated with the intervention was calculated for hospital- and community-acquired infections of both strains. RESULTS For the resistant strain, there were large reductions in hospital-acquired infections (0.1 ≤ IRR ≤ 0.6) and smaller reductions in community-acquired infections (0.2 ≤ IRR ≤ 0.9). These reductions increased in line with increasing importance of nosocomial transmission of the strain. For the sensitive strain, reductions in hospital acquisitions were much smaller (0.6 ≤ IRR ≤ 0.9), while community acquisitions could increase or decrease (0.9 ≤ IRR ≤ 1.2). The greater the importance of the community environment for the transmission of the sensitive strain, the smaller the reductions. CONCLUSIONS Counter-intuitively, infection control interventions, including hand hygiene, can have strikingly discordant effects on resistant and sensitive strains even though they target them equally. This follows from differences in their adaptation to hospital- and community-based transmission. Observed lack of effectiveness of control measures for sensitive strains does not provide evidence that infection control interventions have been ineffective in reducing resistant strains.
van Kleef, E., Luangasanatip, N., Bonten, M. J., & Cooper, B. S. (2017). Why sensitive bacteria are resistant to hospital infection control. Wellcome Open Research, 2, 16. https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.11033.1