UAntwerp research shows that antibiotics fail to save almost 1 in 4 newborns with blood poisoning

If you get a bacterial infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. But what if those bacteria are resistant to the medication? A team of scientists including researchers from the University of Antwerp collected data from more than 3,200 newborns with blood poisoning in eleven different countries. In some countries, one in four treated infections resulted in death due to antibiotic resistance.

The research was conducted by the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP) in collaboration with Penta, an NGO dedicated to child health, the University of Antwerp, St. George’s University of London, and University College London.

The researchers collected data from nineteen hospitals across eleven different countries: from Italy to China to Bangladesh. They studied the treatment outcomes of 3,200 babies with neonatal sepsis, or blood poisoning. Every year, this life-threatening disease affects three million babies worldwide. And every year, 214,000 newborns, mainly in low- and middle-income countries, die from blood poisoning due to antibiotic resistance. Because of their underdeveloped immune systems, babies are at high risk of becoming seriously ill.

200 different types
The study found that the number of deaths from sepsis among newborns varied greatly from country to country. The mortality rates in the hospitals ranged between 1.6% and 27.3%. Especially in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries, these numbers were remarkably higher. The reason for this is the severe shortage of nurses, beds and space, which significantly increases the risk of infections.

But the researchers also came to alarming conclusions about the use of antibiotics. Overall, more than 200 different types of antibiotics were used, and in many cases doctors had to switch types because the bacteria were immune to the treatment. Many doctors had to resort to carbapenems, an antibiotic that should be used very sparingly because there is a high risk of resistance. The researchers estimated that in 15% of cases, the babies were treated with antibiotics that would otherwise be used as a last resort.

Better treatment
Based on the data collected, the researchers developed two tools to treat neonatal sepsis more effectively. One is the NeoSep Severity Score, a list of ten clinical symptoms that doctors can use to determine the severity of the disease. The other is the NeoSep Recovery Score, which helps doctors determine when they should increase the severity of the medication.

The researchers also hope that their findings will have an impact on the World Health Organisation’s current guidelines on the treatment of sepsis in newborns. Finally, the findings will also form the basis for clinical trials in the future. The aim is to find a more effective method of curing sepsis, in order to counter the resistance problem.