Extended spectrum beta lactamases (ESBLs)

What is it?

Extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs) are enzymes produced by a range of bacteria that can break down some types of antibiotics, preventing the antibiotic from killing the bacteria. Bacteria that produce these enzymes usually reside in the bowel. The most common ESBL bacteria are Klebsiella species, E. coli, Proteus mirabilis, Enterobacter cloacae, and other bowel bacilli. ESBL infection is most commonly related to a urinary tract infection.

Those most at risk of infection or colonisation are generally people who have been in a hospital and are immunocompromised. Residents who have ESBLs will probably be colonised with the bacteria residing in their bowel, with no signs or symptoms of infection. However, if the colonised ESBL bacteria have the opportunity to be transferred to wounds or urine, they can cause local infection or even a systemic infection of the blood, such as septicaemia.

ESBL-producing bacteria are resistant to some of the common antibiotics used to treat infection. This resistance means there are fewer options for treatment if an infection occurs.


Mode of Transmission

These organisms are easily spread from resident to resident by direct contact, often via the hands of healthcare workers, or by indirect contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment.