Infections due to extended spectrum beta-lactamase producing organisms (ESBL) have emerged as the leading cause of sepsis among hospitalized neonates in Botswana and much of sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Yet, ESBL reservoirs and transmission dynamics within the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) environment are not well-understood. This study aimed to assess the efficiency and feasibility of a chromogenic-culture-media-based environmental sampling approach to characterize the ESBL bioburden within a NICU.
A series of four point-prevalence surveys were conducted at a 36-bed NICU at a public tertiary referral hospital in Botswana from January-June 2021. Samples were collected on 4 occasions under semi-sterile technique using 1) flocked swabs & templates (flat surfaces); 2) sterile syringe & tubing (water aspiration); and 3) structured swabbing techniques (hands & equipment). Swabs were transported in physiological saline-containing tubes, vortexed, and 10 µL was inoculated onto chromogenic-agar that was selective and differential for ESBL (CHROMagar™ ESBL, Paris, France), and streaking plates to isolate individual colonies. Bacterial colonies were quantified and phenotypically characterized using biochemical identification tests.
In total, 567 samples were collected, 248 (44%) of which grew ESBL. Dense and consistent ESBL contamination was detected in and around sinks and certain high-touch surfaces, while transient contamination was demonstrated on medical equipment, caregivers/healthcare worker hands, insects, and feeding stations (including formula powder). Results were available within 24–72 h of collection. To collect, plate, and analyse 50 samples, we estimated a total expenditure of $269.40 USD for materials and 13.5 cumulative work hours among all personnel.
Using basic environmental sampling and laboratory techniques aided by chromogenic culture media, we identified ESBL reservoirs (sinks) and plausible transmission vehicles (medical equipment, infant formula, hands of caregivers/healthcare workers, & insects) in this NICU environment. This strategy was a simple and cost-efficient method to assess ESBL bioburden and may be feasible for use in other settings to support ongoing infection control assessments and outbreak investigations.