Houston has a superbug problem, and it’s been lurking for years. A particularly virulent strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bacteria that’s resistant to a broad spectrum of antibiotics, has a firm foothold on the Texan city, according to new research published in mBio, an online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology. Using genome sequencing, scientists from the Houston Methodist Research Institute found clone type 307 was responsible for more than one-third of resistant K. pneumoniae infections in their system.

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“Finding the otherwise uncommon strain in our city was a very surprising discovery,” James M. Musser, senior author of the study and chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and Houston Methodist Hospital, said in a statement. “Because K. pneumoniae is a common and important cause of human infections, we urgently need to identify potential vaccine targets or other new treatments, and develop new and rapid diagnostic techniques.”

K. pneumoniae usually resides in the human intestines, where it doesn’t cause disease. When it migrates to other parts of the body, however, the bacteria can trigger infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, or blood septicity.

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Musser’s team worked with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago to analyze the genomes of 1,777 K. pneumoniae strains that caused infections in patients at Houston Methodist between September 2011 and May 2015.

Clone type 307 emerged as the most abundant strain. But although the organism has been documented in regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America, the study marks the first time it’s been singled out for causing such a broad number of infections in one city.

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Why this strain is so common in Houston is still a mystery, Musser said.

“The faster we can successfully identify which antibiotics this strain is sensitive to, the faster a treating physician can target the appropriate therapy to these ill patients,” said S. Wesley Long, primary author of the study and associate director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Our discoveries also give us the tools to begin to understand how the germ is spreading throughout the Houston area.”

Earlier this year, an elderly woman in Nevada died from a K. pneumoniae infection after failing to respond to all 26 antibiotics used in the United States.

There’s no approved vaccine for the superbug, but scientists are working on it.

“Fortunately, the strain 307 identified in our study remains susceptible to certain antibiotics that can be used to successfully treat infected patients,” said Long.

+ American Society for Microbiology

Via CBS News

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