Healthcare-associated infections, medical devices and biofilms: risk, tolerance and control.
Bacteria have a basic survival strategy: to colonize surfaces and grow as biofilm communities embedded in a gel-like polysaccharide matrix. The catheterized urinary tract provides ideal conditions for the development of enormous biofilm populations. Many bacterial species colonize indwelling catheters as biofilms, inducing complications in patients' care. The most troublesome complications are the crystalline biofilms that can occlude the catheter lumen and trigger episodes of pyelonephritis and septicemia. The crystalline biofilms result from infection by urease-producing bacteria, particularly Proteus mirabilis. Urease raises the urinary pH and drives the formation of calcium phosphate and magnesium phosphate crystals in the biofilm. All types of catheter are vulnerable to encrustation by these biofilms, and clinical prevention strategies are clearly needed, as bacteria growing in the biofilm mode are resistant to antibiotics. Evidence indicates that treatment of symptomatic, catheter-associated urinary tract infection is more effective if biofilm-laden catheters are changed before antibiotic treatment is initiated. Infection with P. mirabilis exposes the many faults of currently available catheters, and plenty of scope exists for improvement in both their design and production; manufacturers should take up the challenge to improve patient outcomes.