Because these bacteria look like they’re adapting to an invasive lifestyle, and are slowly gaining resistance to more antibiotics, preventing infections is crucial. There are long-term interventions we can take to make infections less likely, but there are also solutions available now that can have an impact.
A better understanding of transmission
We still don’t really understand how this disease spreads. Knowing this would help us prioritise interventions such as improving sanitation and nutrition, developing vaccines, or controlling risk factors by reducing rates of malaria infections and administering antiretrovirals to treat HIV.
Better diagnosis of infections
The symptoms of invasive Salmonella infection can indicate a range of diseases. Diagnosing these infections is time-consuming, expensive, and needs the right equipment. Local partners in this surveillance study discovered this strain from limited sampling in the DRC. We have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the DRC, and won’t know unless better infrastructure is in place to make these diagnoses. It’s also possible the disease may currently be underestimated in other areas of the world like Southeast Asia and Latin America, where there is less reporting of the causes of bloodstream infections.
Identifying and tracking dangerous new strains
Identifying these new invasive strains can be tricky. It’s hard to tell how invasive a strain is, especially in humans. The ability of a machine learning algorithm to flag newer strains of ST313 as more invasive gives us a promising indication that it could be used to identify other dangerous new strains as they appear.
We’ve seen major changes occurring in these bacteria on a timescale of decades, that have allowed them to become more competitive and dangerous. Being able to recognise a new strain as it appears means we can mount a response to contain its spread. It also helps us to understand and target the upstream factors that lead to their appearance and success. DNA sequencing is becoming a cheaper, more viable option for public health. Our work illustrates the insight we gain into a complex disease like bloodstream infections by forming collaborative networks and examining the DNA of the agents causing disease.