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Maria Susana Rueda Altez

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., to lead as Junior Section President-Elect

Maria Susana Rueda Altez

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., junior section president-elect for the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR).

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., was selected as junior section president-elect for the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR). During her tenure, Dr. Rueda Altez will ensure more trainees benefit from networking opportunities and leverage her online communications experience to increase awareness, membership and participation in SPR among students, residents and fellows.

The president of the junior section is a fellow who is elected by other junior member peers and is in-charge of managing and enhancing the junior section, by participating in SPR council meetings, promoting membership among trainees and reinforcing the pipeline from junior to active members.

“I am so honored, not only as a Peruvian physician, but as an international medical graduate (IMG), to have been elected for this position,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “As an IMG, there are special challenges to conducting research, so I plan to raise awareness and provide support to my fellow IMG junior members.”

To Beth A. Tarini, M.D., M.S., SPR president and associate director for the Center for Translational Research at Children’s National Hospital, it is an honor for the hospital to have representatives in the roles of SPR president and SPR junior section president-elect simultaneously.

Dr. Rueda Altez added that there is an urgent need for increased funding in pediatric research, especially for minority and health disparities research. Through her participation in SPR, she will also have the opportunity to advocate for increases in child health research funding.

“I encourage all the trainees and junior faculty in our institution to join the SPR junior section,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “It provides wonderful resources for career development and guidance, grant writing courses and invaluable mentorship.”

Her research interest is newborn infections, and her overall goal is to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics in this population.

“I am currently working on a quality improvement project to reduce the number of days NICU infants are exposed to antibiotics,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “I have developed a project to ascertain the utility of microbial cell-free DNA next generation sequencing, a novel microbiologic diagnostic tool, for the diagnosis of neonatal infections.”

Dr. Rueda Altez’s work on neonatal sepsis will help scientists better distinguish between neonates who do and don’t have serious bacterial infections.

“Right now, when in doubt we tend to treat it as bacterial infections, which can lead to unnecessary medical treatment and worsen resistance to antibiotics,” said Tarini.

Dr. Rueda Altez also serves as an independent reviewer of investigational manuscripts for The Journal of Pediatrics and Pediatrics and guest editor for The Journal of Pediatrics. Her passion for the peer-review process also shows in her long list of published research.

Dr. Tarini also foresees multiple research trends in the next five years that might appear in peer-reviewed publications.

“We have so much to tackle in child health research, both ongoing and new challenges,” said Dr. Tarini.  “Some issues that come to mind are the mental health crisis in children and teens, continuing to make strides on treating and preventing childhood obesity, the effect of poverty on children’s health, and the pandemic’s effect on all of these issues and its direct effect on health outcomes.”

Neisseria meningitidis bacteria

Case report highlights importance of antibiotic stewardship

Neisseria meningitidis bacteria

Neisseria meningitidis is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adolescents and an important cause of disease in younger children as well.

A recent meningitis case treated at Children’s National Hospital raises serious concerns about a rise in antibiotic resistance in the common bacterium that caused it, researchers from the hospital write in a case report. Their findings, published online August 3 in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, could change laboratory and clinical practice across the U.S. and potentially around the globe.

Neisseria meningitidis is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adolescents and an important cause of disease in younger children as well, say case report authors Gillian Taormina, D.O., a third year fellow in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National, who was on service for this recent case, and Joseph Campos, Ph.D., D(ABMM), FAAM, director of the Microbiology Laboratory and the Infectious Diseases Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at Children’s National. As standard clinical practice in the U.S., they explain, patients who are thought to have this infection are typically treated first with the broad spectrum antibiotic ceftriaxone while they wait for a microbiology lab to identify the causative organism from blood or cerebrospinal fluid samples. Once the organism is identified as N. meningitidis, patients are typically treated with penicillin or ampicillin, antibiotics with a narrower spectrum of activity that’s less likely to lead to ceftriaxone resistance. Family members and other close contacts are often prophylactically treated with an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin.

Because N. meningitidis has historically been sensitive to these antibiotics, most laboratories do not perform tests to confirm drug susceptibility, Dr. Campos says. But the protocol at Children’s National is to screen these isolates for penicillin and ampicillin resistance with a rapid 5-minute test. The isolate from Dr. Taormina’s five-month-old patient – a previously healthy infant from Maryland who came to the Children’s National emergency room after six days of fever and congestion – yielded surprising results: N. meningitidis grown from the patient’s blood was positive for beta-lactamase, an enzyme that destroys the active component in the family of antibiotics that includes penicillin and ampicillin. This isolate was also found resistant to ciprofloxacin.

“The lab used a rapid test, and after just a few minutes, it was positive,” Dr. Campos says. “We did it again to make sure it was accurate, and the results were reproducible. That’s when we knew we needed to share this finding with the public health authorities.”

Dr. Campos, Dr. Taormina and their colleagues sent samples of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria first to the Washington, D.C. Public Health Laboratory and the Maryland Department of Health, and later to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When the CDC asked other state laboratories to send their own N. meningitidis samples to be tested, 33 were positive for beta-lactamase. And like the bacterium isolated from Dr. Taormina’s patient, 11 of these were also resistant to ciprofloxacin.

“These bacteria wouldn’t have been susceptible to the common antibiotics that we would normally use for this infection,” Dr. Taormina says, “so it’s entirely possible that the infections caused by these bacteria could have been treated inappropriately if doctors used the standard protocol.”

Dr. Taormina says that her patient cleared his infection after staying on ceftriaxone, the original antibiotic he’d been prescribed, for the recommended seven days. His six family members and close contacts were prophylactically treated with rifampin instead of ciprofloxacin.

Although this case had a positive outcome, Dr. Campos says it raises the alarm for other N. meningitidis infections in the U.S., where antibiotic resistance is a growing concern. The danger is even higher in other countries, where the vaccine that children in the U.S. commonly receive for N. meningitidis at age 11 isn’t available.

In the meantime, Drs. Taormina and Campos say their case highlights the need for the appropriate use of antibiotics, known as antibiotic stewardship, which is only possible with close partnerships between infectious disease doctors and microbiology laboratories.

“Our lab and the infectious diseases service at Children’s National interact every day on cases like this to make sure we’re doing the best job we can in diagnosing and managing infections,” says Dr. Campos. “We’re a team.”

Other Children’s National authors who contributed to this case report include infectious disease specialist Benjamin Hanisch, M.D.

bacteriophage

Phage therapy draws renewed interest to combat drug-resistant microbes

bacteriophage

In the face of growing antibiotic resistance and few antibiotics in the development pipeline, phages are drawing renewed research interest as a potential silver bullet.

The married professors were spending their Thanksgiving holiday in Egypt when the husband, Thomas L. Patterson, Ph.D., got very sick very quickly, experiencing fever, nausea and a racing heartbeat. By the time Patterson was accurately diagnosed with a highly multi-drug resistant bacterial infection, he was near death. His wife, Steffanie Strathdee, Ph.D., promised to “leave no stone unturned.’”

What happened next is the ultimate infectious disease feel good story: Strathdee, part of an All-Star team of infectious disease experts and epidemiologists, concocted a cocktail of viruses that killed the superbug and saved Patterson’s life.

“He was going to die,” says Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., MS, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Health System. “Because of her epidemiology background – and because she loves him – Patterson became the first patient successfully treated with bacteriophages.”

Dr. DeBiasi explains that all viruses take over cells and use their machinery for their own purposes. In order to escape, viruses blow up the cell. Bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria, taking over their machinery and ultimately killing the bacterial host.

“Infection is a race between the body’s immune response and the bacteria replicating themselves,” she adds. “Bacteria have to continually replicate. If you knock out 90 percent of them with phage therapy, that gives the immune system a fighting chance to win the race.”

She was so inspired by the team’s ingenuity that DeBiasi, program vice-chair, invited them to recount the story during IDWeek2018, held Oct. 3 to Oct. 7, 2018, in San Francisco. During the closing plenary, Patterson, a professor of psychiatry, and Strathdee, associate dean of Global Health Sciences, will be joined by Robert T. “Chip” Schooley, M.D., (all of University of California, San Diego), to discuss the clinical aspects and efficacy of phage therapy.

About 50 years ago, the U.S. military had investigated leveraging phages but ultimately placed that research portfolio on the back burner. Now, in the face of growing antibiotic resistance and few experimental antibiotics in the development pipeline, phages are drawing renewed research interest as a potential silver bullet.

“The technology has been around for 50 years. We’re going back to old things because we’re so desperate,” Dr. DeBiasi adds.

The tricky thing with phages is that each bacterium needs its own tailored phage therapy.

Children’s National is working with Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, a company based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, that developed the phage used to save Patterson, in order to help build out that library of phages, each ready to be directed to do battle against a specific pathogen.

“We have been consultants to them to think about what would be a good clinical trial, particularly in a pediatric population,” Dr. DeBiasi says.

Children’s National has been collecting and sending isolates from patients with neurogenic bladder who experience urinary tract infections to shore up the phage library in anticipation of a clinical trial. The work builds on Children’s experience as the first center to use phage therapy in a pediatric patient, a 2-year-old who had multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection complicated by bacteremia/sepsis.

Staphylococcus aureus

Understanding antibiotic resistance in patients with cystic fibrosis

Staphylococcus aureus

Patients with cystic fibrosis who carried antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, in their lungs had significantly lower microbial diversity and more aggressive disease, according to a small study published in Heliyon.

A defective gene causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). There, it traps bacteria, causing patients to develop frequent lung infections that progressively damage these vital organs and impair patients’ ability to breathe.

Most patients with this progressive genetic disorder die by the fourth decade of life. A key to helping patients live even that long – a vast improvement from an average lifespan of 10 years  just decades ago – is judicious use of antibiotics, explains Andrea Hahn, M.D., a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Children’s National Health System.

But antibiotics are a double-edged sword, Dr. Hahn adds: Although they’re necessary to eradicate lung infections, repeated use of these drugs can lead to antibiotic resistance, making it tougher to treat future infections. Also, antibiotic use can kill the nonpathogenic bacteria living in the lungs as well. That decreases the diversity of the microbial community that resides in the lungs, a factor associated with disease progression. But how antibiotic resistance impacts the relationship between lung bacterial diversity and CF patients’ pulmonary function has been unknown.

Dr. Hahn and colleagues investigated this question in a small study that was published online Sept. 17, 2018, in Heliyon. Their findings suggest that the presence of multidrug resistant bacteria in the airways of patients with CF is associated with decreased microbial diversity and decreased pulmonary function.

In the study, the researchers recruited six patients with CF from Children’s National during well-child visits. During those appointments, the research team collected respiratory secretions from these volunteers. They collected more samples at subsequent visits, including:

  • When patients were admitted to the hospital for pulmonary exacerbations (periods when infections inflamed their airways, making it difficult to breathe);
  • Just after intravenous antibiotic courses to treat these infections; and
  • Thirty days after patients completed antibiotic therapy, when their lungs’ bacterial flora had some time to bounce back.

Over the 18-month study period, these patients made multiple visits for exacerbations and antibiotic treatments, leading to samples from 19 patient encounters overall.

The scientists then analyzed each sample in two different ways. They used some to grow cultures in petri dishes, the classic method that labs use to figure out which bacterial species are present and to determine which antibiotics are effective in tamping them down. They used another part of the sample to run genetic analyses that searched for antibiotic resistance genes. Both methods were necessary to gather a complete inventory of which antibiotic-resistant bacteria were present, Dr. Hahn explains.

“Laboratory cultures are designed to grow certain types of bacteria that we know are problematic, but they don’t show everything,” she says. “By genetically sequencing these samples, we can see everything that’s there.”

Their results revealed a host of bacterial species present in these patients’ airways, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a notoriously hard-to-treat microbe. Patients who carried this or other antibiotic-resistant bacteria had significantly lower microbial diversity in their samples and more aggressive disease. Their samples also were more likely to contain bacteria of the genus Alcaligenes, whose role in CF is not yet known.

Although heavy antibiotic use probably contributed to both the antibiotic resistance and lowered microbial diversity, Dr. Hahn says, the answer isn’t to reduce use of these drugs: They’re necessary to help patients with CF recover after each bout with pulmonary exacerbations. Rather, she says, using methods beyond a simple lab culture can help doctors target infectious bacteria more selectively, perhaps avoiding collateral damage.

“We can’t stop using antibiotics,” she says, “but we can learn to use them better.”

In addition to Dr. Hahn, Children’s co-authors include Aszia Burrell; Hani Fanous; Hollis Chaney, M.D.; Iman Sami Zakhari, M.D.; Geovanny F. Perez, M.D.; Anastassios C. Koumbourlis, M.D., MPH; and Robert J. Freishtat, M.D., MPH; and Senior Author, Keith A. Crandall, of The George Washington University.

Financial support for the research described in this post was provided by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences under award number UL1TR000075 and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute under award number K12HL119994.

physician looking at little girl's ear

Residents: Frontline defenders against antibiotic resistance?

physician looking at little girl's ear

A recent survey assessed whether residents knew which antibiotics were most appropriate for treating five common pediatric infections, including acute otitis media (ear infection).


Antibiotic resistance continues to grow around the world, with sometimes disastrous results. Some strains of bacteria no longer respond to any currently available antibiotic, making death by infections that were once easily treatable a renewed reality.

Avoiding this fate is possible, research suggests, if antibiotic prescribers do five essential things correctly: Give the right patient the right medication at the right dose through the right route at the right time. Medical residents – doctors who have finished medical school but are still receiving training at clinics and hospitals by working under more experienced physicians – are key to this strategy since they often are part of the frontline care team that selects and initiates antibiotic therapies. However, it has been unclear whether their prescribing patterns match these five “rights,” says Geovanny F. Perez, M.D., a pulmonologist at Children’s National Health System.

“Residents often decide which antibiotics to start a patient on, so they could become the first line of defense against antibiotic resistance,” Dr. Perez says. “They also could be an important target for education efforts if their prescribing patterns aren’t aligned with current guidelines.”

To determine whether residents are prescribing in ways that best avoid antibiotic resistance, Dr. Perez and colleagues sent an email survey to all 189 residents at two large children’s hospitals: Children’s National, a tertiary care center that serves patients throughout the greater Metropolitan Washington area at its main campus and network of primary care clinics; and Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, the largest freestanding pediatric hospital in South Florida.

The survey was divided into two parts. The first aimed to assess the knowledge of these residents about which antibiotics are most appropriate to treat five common pediatric infections: Acute otitis media (ear infection), group A streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat), sinusitis (sinus infection), pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

The second part of the survey was meant to ascertain how residents acquired their antibiotic knowledge and prescribing behaviors. It asked about their awareness of antibiograms – a profile of which medications are effective against different local bacterial strains that is updated periodically at most hospitals – whether residents ever prescribed antibiotics for viral infections and the major influences on their prescribing decisions.

About one-half of the residents returned their surveys. Their answers suggested that most of them followed prescribing guidelines for the recommended drugs to treat otitis media, streptococcal pharyngitis and urinary tract infections. However, there were significant variations from guidelines for treating sinusitis and pneumonia, with many residents choosing antibiotics that were against current recommendations.

Additionally, only 3 percent of respondents indicated that they frequently used antibiograms, an important tool in selecting the most effective antibiotics. About one-half indicated that they sometimes used antibiograms, and one-quarter said that they never used an antibiogram. An additional 17 percent disclosed that they did not know what an antibiogram was. Even among those that knew about this important resource, about one-half said that they didn’t know where to access antibiograms specific to their hospitals.

Three-quarters of respondents indicated that they had prescribed antibiotics to patients who they considered to have a viral infection, rather than a bacterial one – a scenario in which antibiotics have no effect. In a follow-up question assessing the reasons for these decisions, 63 percent answered that they were following instructions from an attending physician or senior resident. More experienced physicians also played a more general role in shaping residents’ antibiotic knowledge: About 54 percent of residents said that their general pediatric inpatient attending physician – who oversees their training efforts – was their most influential source of knowledge in this area.

The findings, published in the September 2017 issue of Hospital Pediatrics, provide eye-opening insights into how residents prescribe antibiotics and their motivations for these choices, says Dr. Perez – particularly how the training they receive from mentors steers decisions many residents must make multiple times a day. He adds that antibiotic stewardship programs, which provide instruction to health care providers about current prescribing guidelines and practices, should focus on both residents and their resident charges for maximum impact.

“Ideally, we should be matching the guidelines 100 percent or at least close to it,” Dr. Perez says. “We think this goal is definitely attainable with the right training for both residents and their mentors alike.”

pill bottles and pills

White children more likely to receive unnecessary antibiotics in ED

Although antibiotics can turn the tide for a variety of illnesses, they are ineffective against those caused by viruses. Despite this well-known fact, doctors often prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses.

Infections now considered relatively easy to treat, including some forms of diarrhea and pneumonia, were the leading cause of death throughout the developed world until the 20th century. Then, scientists developed what eventually turned into a miracle cure: Antibiotics that could kill or thwart the growth of a broad array of bacterial species.

Although antibiotics can turn the tide for a variety of illnesses, they are ineffective against those caused by viruses. Despite this well-known fact, doctors often prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses. Taking these drugs unnecessarily can fuel antibiotic resistance, giving rise to bacteria that don’t respond to the drugs that kept them in check in the past.

A new multicenter study shows how prevalent this scenario can be in hospitals’ Emergency Departments. This research, led by Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National Health System, shows that non-Latino white children seeking treatment for viral infections in the Emergency Department (ED) are about twice as likely to receive an antibiotic unnecessarily compared with non-Latino black children or Latino children.

These findings, published online Sept. 5, 2017 in Pediatrics, echo similar racial and ethnic differences in treating acute respiratory tract infections in the primary care setting.

“It is encouraging that just 2.6 percent of children treated in pediatric EDs across the nation received antibiotics for viral acute respiratory tract infections since antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections,” Dr. Goyal says. “However, it is troubling to see such persistent racial and ethnic differences in how medications are prescribed, in this case in the ED. In addition to providing the best evidence-based care, we also strive to provide equitable care to all patients.”

Acute respiratory tract infections are among the most common reasons children are rushed to the ED for treatment, Dr. Goyal and co-authors write. Overprescribing antibiotics is also rampant for this viral ailment, with antibiotics erroneously prescribed for 13 percent to 75 percent of pediatric patients.

In the retrospective cohort study, the research team pored over deidentified electronic health data for the 2013 calendar year from seven geographically diverse pediatric EDs, capturing 39,445 encounters for these infections that met the study’s inclusion criteria. The patients’ mean age was 3.3 years old. Some 4.3 percent of non-Latino white patients received oral, intravenous or intramuscular antibiotics in the ED or upon discharge, compared with 2.6 percent of Latino patients and 1.9 percent of non-Latino black patients.

“A number of studies have demonstrated disparities with regards to how children of different ethnicities and races are treated in our nation’s pediatric EDs, including frequency of computed tomography scans for minor head trauma, laboratory and radiology tests and pain management. Unfortunately, today’s results provide further evidence of racial and ethnic differences in providing health care in the ED setting,” Dr. Goyal says. “Although, in this case, minority children received evidence-based care, more study is needed to explain why differences in care exist at all.”

At a time of growing antibiotic resistance, the study authors underscored the imperative to decrease excess antibiotic use in kids. Since the 1940s, the nation has relied on antibiotics to contend with diseases such as strep throat. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year.

According to the study authors, future research should explore the reasons that underlie racial and ethnic differences in antibiotic prescribing, including ED clinicians eager to appease anxious parents as well as implicit clinical bias. Dr. Goyal recently received a National Institutes of Health grant to further study racial and ethnic differences in how children seeking treatment at hospital EDs are managed.

“It may come down to factors as simple as providers or parents believing that ‘more is better,’ despite the clear public health risks of prescribing children antibiotics unnecessarily,” Dr. Goyal adds. “In this case, an intervention that educates parents and providers about appropriate antibiotic use could help the pediatric patients we care for today as well as in the future.”