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About Acinetobacter

Acinetobacter is a bacterium (a “bug”) that is commonly found in the environment including water and soil. It can also survive in the hospital environment for long periods. Acinetobacter is one of the bacteria that may be found on the skin of normal healthy people and it poses very little risk to them.

  • Acinetobacter is a bacterium (a “bug”) commonly found in the environment.
  • Acinetobacter may be found on the skin of normal healthy people where it causes no problems.
  • Some acinetobacter have become resistant to many antibiotics and are known as multi-drug resistant acinetobacter (MDR acinetobacter). It is these bacteria that are of concern in a hospital setting.
  • MDR acinetobacter can cause infection but usually only in very sick patients in hospital, such as those patients in an Intensive Care Unit, immunosuppressed or with burns.
  • MDR acinetobacter is spread by contact with an affected person.
  • It can also be spread on the hands of staff or by contact with the bacterium in the environment.
  • Spread can be prevented by everyone washing their hands with soap and water or using alcohol hand gel and by keeping the hospital clean.
  • Patients affected by MDR acinetobacter may also need to be kept in a single isolation room apart from other patients to prevent it spreading further.
  • Infections with MDR acinetobacter can be treated with antibiotics.

Multi-drug resistant acinetobacter (MDR acinetobacter) is one that has become resistant to many of the antibiotics used for treatment. This means that commonly used antibiotics may not be effective against the bacteria.

Patients in hospital may have MDR acinetobacter present on the body without it causing any harm to them. They would not even know they had it unless they had been screened for it. This is spoken of as being “colonised” with MDR acinetobacter.

A small number of vulnerable patients in hospital may become infected with MDR acinetobacter. The most common infections include chest (pneumonia), bloodstream (septicaemia), wound and urine infections. The symptoms of infection will depend on where the infection is.

The people most likely to be infected by MDR acinetobacter are those who have been admitted to hospital and who are already ill. Those most at risk of infection include patients:

  • treated on the Intensive Care Unit, especially if on a ventilator.
  • with severe burns.
  • whose immune systems are weakened, and so cannot fight infection.

  • We may screen certain patients for MDR Acinetobacter on admission to hospital.
  • When a patient is found to have MDR Acinetobacter other patients on the ward may also be screened to see if they are carrying the MDR Acinetobacter, especially when they are vulnerable and at risk.
  • MDR Acinetobacter can be found in various samples including; blood, sputum, and urine, which are sent to the laboratory.

  • It can be spread by contact with an infected person.
  • It can be spread on the contaminated hands of staff and visitors or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (including sheets, towels, dressings, sinks, blood pressure machines).

  • Environmental cleaning is undertaken including ward areas and toilets.
  • To prevent it spreading to other vulnerable hospital patients, a patient with MDR acinetobacter may be moved to a single room or will be looked after with special precautions on the ward.
  • All staff, patients, and visitors should wash their hands with soap and water or use the alcohol hand rub provided in clinical areas.
  • This should be done before and after any contact with a patient.
  • Staff will wear aprons and gloves when caring fora patient with MDR Acinetobacter.
  • Personal items such as towels, face cloths or hairbrushes, should not be shared.
  • Special care will be taken when the patient is moved to another ward, hospital or clinic.

  • Many patients with MDR Acinetobacter will simply be carrying the Acinetobacter and will not be infected.
  • Infections caused by MDR Acinetobacter are treatable with certain antibiotics. MDR Acinetobacter does not restrict other medical care that is needed.

There is very little risk to family members, pregnant women or children and hospital staff.


  • Visitors who are themselves unwell should not visit patients.
  • A visitor who has had a recent infection or illness, or has a medical problem which makes them vulnerable to infection should check with the nurse before visiting.
  • Children and babies are vulnerable to infection and visiting may be restricted.
  • Visitors should check with the nurse in charge before visiting, especially if the patient has an infection.
  • Visitors should wash their hands with soap and water or use the alcohol hand rub provided in clinical areas before and after any contact with a patient.
  • Visitors do not need to wear aprons or gloves unless helping with patient care or visiting other patients on the same day.

  • When leaving hospital, patients who were found to have MDR acinetobacter or who are recovering from an infection, do not need to take the any precautions at home.
  • They do not pose an increased health risk to healthy people in the community, including babies and pregnant women.
  • However, if a relative or carer is helping to wash or dress a wound, it is important they wash their hands before and afterwards.
  • Bed linen and clothes can be washed as usual in a normal washing machine.
  • If re-admitted to hospital or admitted to another hospital please alert staff to the history of MDR acinetobacter.