Published online Mar 9, 2015. doi: 10.5497/wjp.v4.i1.75
Peer-review started: July 29, 2014
First decision: October 16, 2014
Revised: November 14, 2014
Accepted: November 27, 2014
Article in press: December 1, 2014
Published online: March 9, 2015
Carbapenems are potent β-lactams with activity against extended-spectrum cephalosporinases and β-lactamases. These antibiotics, derived from thienamycn, a carbapenem produced by the environmental bacterium Streptomyces cattleya, were initially used as last-resort treatments for severe Gram-negative bacterial infections presenting resistance to most β-lactams but have become an empirical option in countries with high prevalence of Extended Spectrum β-lactamase-producing bacterial infections. Imipenem, the first commercially available carbapenem, was approved for clinical use in 1985. Since then, a wide variety of carbapenem-resistant bacteria has appeared, primarily Enterobacteriaceae such as Escherichia coli or Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae), Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii, presenting different resistance mechanisms. The most relevant mechanism is the production of carbapenem-hydrolyzing β-lactamases, also known as carbapenemases. These enzymes also inactivate all known β-lactams, and some of these enzymes can be acquired through horizontal gene transfer. Moreover, plasmids, transposons and integrons harboring these genes typically carry other resistance determinants, rendering the recipient bacteria resistant to almost all currently used antimicrobials, as is the case for K. pneumoniae carbapenemase - or New Delhi metallo-β-lactamases-type enzymes. The recent advent of these enzymes in the health landscape presents a serious challenge. First, the emergence of carbapenemases limits the currently available treatment options; second, these enzymes pose a risk to patients, as some studies have demonstrated high mortality associated with carbapenemase-producing bacterial infections; and third, these circumstances require an extra cost to sanitary systems, which are particularly cumbersome in developing countries. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on the early detection of these enzymes, the prevention of the spread of carbapenemase-producing bacteria and the development of new drugs resistant to carbapenemase hydrolysis.
Core tip: Carbapenemase-producing bacteria were a rare curiosity 15 years ago, as these bacteria were primarily detected in hospital settings. However, now carbapenemase-producing bacteria are observed in farms, companion or wild animals and even in distant glaciers, becoming an epidemic. The relevance this subject has acquired can be easily demonstrated through a search in any medical database; more than 1500 articles have been published depicting the exponential isolation of these bacteria since 1990, with an alarming acceleration in the last seven years.