Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority is planning to tackle a noteworthy rise of two superbugs — vancomycin-resistant enterococci and Candida auris — with the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
According to a Nov. 24 South China Morning Post report citing the authority, the increase in the prevalence of multidrug-resistant organisms, or superbugs, on the island occurred due to a redistribution of resources aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic over the past three years. Dr. Raymond Lai, the authority’s chief infection control officer, told journalists:
“A significant number of isolation wards were allocated to Covid-19 patients, leaving fewer wards available for those infected with MDROs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also significantly increased broad-spectrum antibiotic prescriptions, leading to antibiotic resistance development within the superbugs. According to the authority, the antibiotic resistance rate of vancomycin-resistant enterococci rose from 0.22% in 2021 to 1.2% in 2023. Patients carrying those microorganisms increased from fewer than 40 in 2021 to around 140 by late September 2023.
Discovered in Hong Kong in 2019, there has been an increase in Candida auris carriers, jumping from nearly 200 in 2020 to more than 300 by Oct. 31, 2023. Lai cautions that approximately 10% of individuals harboring this fungus may progress to invasive infections, presenting a mortality risk ranging from 53% to 83.3%.
To combat the problem, in January 2024, the Hospital Authority will launch an AI pilot at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin and Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung. The AI will analyze clinical data to determine the necessity of prescribing antibiotics. It will start from a single popular type of antibiotic and then expand to eight other types and 17 public hospitals.
This isn’t the first time AI has been used to combat the problem of antibiotic resistance. In May 2023, AI helped Massachusetts Institute of Technology and McMaster University researchers identify a new antibiotic that could kill a bacteria responsible for many drug-resistant infections, Acinetobacter baumannii.