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Infection. 2012 Jun;40(3):239-62. doi: 10.1007/s15010-012-0257-2. Epub 2012 Mar 30.

Resistance surveillance studies: a multifaceted problem--the fluoroquinolone example.

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  • 1Institute for Infection-Medicine, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel and University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Brunswiker Str. 4, 24105, Kiel, Germany.



This review summarizes data on the fluoroquinolone resistance epidemiology published in the previous 5 years.


The data reviewed are stratified according to the different prescription patterns by either primary- or tertiary-care givers and by indication. Global surveillance studies demonstrate that fluoroquinolone- resistance rates increased in the past several years in almost all bacterial species except Staphylococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae causing community-acquired respiratory tract infections (CARTIs), as well as Enterobacteriaceae causing community-acquired urinary tract infections. Geographically and quantitatively varying fluoroquinolone resistance rates were recorded among Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogens causing healthcare-associated respiratory tract infections. One- to two-thirds of Enterobacteriaceae producing extended-spectrum β-lactamases (ESBLs) were fluoroquinolone resistant too, thus, limiting the fluoroquinolone use in the treatment of community- as well as healthcare-acquired urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections. The remaining ESBL-producing or plasmid-mediated quinolone resistance mechanisms harboring Enterobacteriaceae were low-level quinolone resistant. Furthermore, 10-30 % of H. influenzae and S. pneumoniae causing CARTIs harbored first-step quinolone resistance determining region (QRDR) mutations. These mutants pass susceptibility testing unnoticed and are primed to acquire high-level fluoroquinolone resistance rapidly, thus, putting the patient at risk. The continued increase in fluoroquinolone resistance affects patient management and necessitates changes in some current guidelines for the treatment of intra-abdominal infections or even precludes the use of fluoroquinolones in certain indications like gonorrhea and pelvic inflammatory diseases in those geographic areas in which fluoroquinolone resistance rates and/or ESBL production is high. Fluoroquinolone resistance has been selected among the commensal flora colonizing the gut, nose, oropharynx, and skin, so that horizontal gene transfer between the commensal flora and the offending pathogen as well as inter- and intraspecies recombinations contribute to the emergence and spread of fluoroquinolone resistance among pathogenic streptococci. Although interspecies recombinations are not yet the major cause for the emergence of fluoroquinolone resistance, its existence indicates that a large reservoir of fluoroquinolone resistance exists. Thus, a scenario resembling that of a worldwide spread of β-lactam resistance in pneumococci is conceivable. However, many resistance surveillance studies suffer from inaccuracies like the sampling of a selected patient population, restricted geographical sampling, and undefined requirements of the user, so that the results are biased. The number of national centers is most often limited with one to two participating laboratories, so that such studies are point prevalence but not surveillance studies. Selected samples are analyzed predominantly as either hospitalized patients or patients at risk or those in whom therapy failed are sampled; however, fluoroquinolones are most frequently prescribed by the general practitioner. Selected sampling results in a significant over-estimation of fluoroquinolone resistance in outpatients. Furthermore, the requirements of the users are often not met; the prescribing physician, the microbiologist, the infection control specialist, public health and regulatory authorities, and the pharmaceutical industry have diverse interests, which, however, are not addressed by different designs of a surveillance study. Tools should be developed to provide customer-specific datasets.


Consequently, most surveillance studies suffer from well recognized but uncorrected biases or inaccuracies. Nevertheless, they provide important information that allows the identification of trends in pathogen incidence and antimicrobial resistance.

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