Pollution Increases Risk of Young Children with CF Developing an Antibiotic-resistant Bacterial Infection, Study Finds

Ashraf Malhas, PhD avatar

by Ashraf Malhas, PhD |

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Air pollution increases the risk that young children with cystic fibrosis will develop the methicillin-resistant bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a study reports.

The research, “Air pollution exposure is associated with MRSA acquisition in young U.S. children with cystic fibrosis,” was published in the journal BMC Pulmonary Medicine. Methicillin-resistant bacteria develop resistance to a number of antibiotics.

Respiratory infections are associated with the worsening of CF. Identifying infection risk factors can help doctors come up with an early and adequate treatment plan.

Scientists have linked both long- and short-term exposure to air pollution with CF patients’ decline in lung function and increased pulmonary exacerbations. Few studies have investigated the association between air pollution and the risk of CF patients developing respiratory infections, however.

Researchers decided to see if there was a link between air pollution and young children with CF developing bacterial infections. They looked in particular at exposure to fine pollution particles — less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

The study involved more than 3,000 American children with CF under the age of 6. It covered infections with four bacteria: MRSA, methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus, or MSSA, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, and Achromobacter xylosoxidans.

Researchers discovered that air pollution significantly increased the risk of infection with MRSA, but not with the other bacteria. They also found that the worse the pollution, the higher the risk of developing an MRSA infection.

Previous studies showed a link between chronic MRSA infections in CF patients and worse survival rates. That research identified several risk factors for MRSA infections, including high temperatures and more frequent visits to medical care facilities.

This study was the first to identify air pollution as a risk factor for MRSA infection.

MRSA infections increased from 9 percent of CF patients in the United States to 27 percent between 2002 and 2012, highlighting the importance of identifying risk factors associated with the bacteria.

The researchers concluded that their results “strengthen the growing evidence that increased levels of air pollution are associated with adverse outcomes in the CF population.” They added that since respiratory infections have significant effects on CF patients, “future studies that elucidate other risk factors for these infections are needed.”