The specter of glycopeptide resistance: current trends and future considerations

  • Robert C. Moellering Jr.
    Requests for reprints should be addressed to Robert C. Moellering, Jr., MD, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 110 Francis Street, LMOB 6A, Boston, Massachusetts 02215
    Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
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      Two glycopeptide antibiotics, vancomycin and teicoplanin, are currently available for clinical use in various parts of the world, whereas a third, avoparcin, is available for use in agricultural applications and in veterinary medicine in some countries. Because of their outstanding activity against a broad spectrum of gram-positive bacteria, vancomycin and teicoplanin have often been considered the drugs of “last resort” for serious infections due to drug-resistant gram-positive pathogens. Glycopeptides had been in clinical use for almost 30 years before high-level resistance, first reported in enterococcal species, emerged. More recently, there have been disturbing reports of low- and intermediate-level resistance to vancomycin in strains of Staphylococcus aureus. A review of earlier reports reveals, however, that S. aureus strains with reduced susceptibility to glycopeptides were first identified >40 years ago. Such strains may occur in nature or may have developed low-level mutational resistance in response to the selection pressure of glycopeptide therapy. Of considerably greater concern is the possibility that vancomycin resistance genes found in enterococci may be transferred to more virulent organisms such as staphylococci or Streptococcus pneumoniae.
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