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HealthInfo Canterbury

Extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL)

What is ESBL?

A beta-lactamase is an enzyme produced by some bacteria which prevents certain antibiotics from working. Bacteria that are able to produce this enzyme are more resistant to many of the antibiotics prescribed to treat infections, which makes an infection caused by ESBL more difficult to treat.

Most commonly, ESBL is associated with the bacteria E. coli and Klebsiella, both of which are normal inhabitants of your bowel.

How is ESBL detected?

Blood tests or tests on samples such as rectal swabs and wound swabs are used to identify ESBL.

How might ESBL affect me?

ESBL can cause colonisation or infection.

How is ESBL spread?

People can become infected by ESBL if they touch other people who have the infection or surfaces that are contaminated, and then touch their mouth area without having washed their hands.

ESBL is not spread through the air by coughing or sneezing.

Can I spread it to other people?

In hospital, you can potentially spread the bacteria to other patients who are at risk of infection because their body's defence mechanisms are weakened by illness, surgery, medications and procedures.

ESBL is not usually a risk to healthy people.

What will happen when I am in hospital?

You may be moved to a single room and placed in contact isolation or have your own toilet to reduce the risk of ESBL spreading to other patients. Hospital staff may wear gloves and gowns or aprons when carrying out certain aspects of your care.

What can I do to prevent spreading it to other people while in hospital?

If you are in contact isolation, it is important that you do not visit patients in other parts of the ward or in other wards. You may also be asked not to go into communal areas.

Good hand hygiene is the single most important measure to prevent the spread of ESBL within hospitals.

You can help prevent the spread of ESBL by cleaning your hands regularly, particularly after going to the toilet. Alcohol-based hand rubs or gels are hand cleansers that do not require water and are an excellent alternative to hand washing. They are available for use in all hospital wards and departments.

Encourage everyone who visits, including healthcare workers, to wash their hands after visiting you.

Will it affect my family and friends?

Visitors, including pregnant women and young children, are not at risk from ESBL. However, please remind your visitors that they must wash their hands or use the alcohol-based hand rub on leaving your room.

If your visitors have other people they wish to visit in the hospital they should do that before coming to see you.

Your laundry can be washed as usual.

Will ESBL prevent me from going home?

ESBL will not prevent you from going home. You will be discharged as soon as your general condition allows.

What happens when I go home?

The presence of ESBL does not pose a risk to the health of your family and friends when you are at home or at work.

Good hand washing is important for you and everyone else at home. Normal household cleaning practices are sufficient. Towels, clothes, bed sheets and other items can be washed as usual. All utensils and dishes can be washed as usual. Restrictions on activities or visitors to your home are not necessary.

If there is anything else you wish to know, please ask your general practice team.

Written by Infection Prevention and Control Service, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. February 2013.


See also:

Hand hygiene

Page reference: 57597

Review key: HIESB-57597