People treated in hospitals and other health care settings are increasingly at risk of infection with multidrug-resistant bacteria. Many of these microbes produce enzymes called extended-spectrum β-lactamases (ESBLs), which make them resistant to antibiotics. Understanding how ESBL bacteria spread from person to person is key to developing effective prevention strategies.

An observational study conducted in a French hospital showed that human contact was responsible for 90 percent of the spread of one species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to new patients, but less than 60 percent of the spread of a different species.

In the study, researchers distributed wearable sensors to hundreds of patients and health care workers in a French hospital. Equipped with RFID tags, the sensors allowed the researchers to track patterns of human contact between patients over an eight-week period. Meanwhile, they systematically screened patients for ESBL-producing Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumonia.

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