Image_8_Comparison of Infant Gut and Skin Microbiota, Resistome and Virulome Between Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Environments.JPEG

Background: There is a growing move to provide care for premature infants in a single family, private room neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in place of the traditional shared space, open bay NICU. The resultant effect on the developing neonatal microbiota is unknown.

Study Design: Stool and groin skin swabs were collected from infants in a shared-space NICU (old NICU) and a single-family room NICU (new NICU) on the same hospital campus. Metagenomic sequencing was performed and data analyzed by CosmosID bioinformatics software package.

Results: There were no significant differences between the cohorts in gestational age, length of stay, and delivery mode; infants in the old NICU received significantly more antibiotics (p = 0.03). Differentially abundant antimicrobial resistance genes and virulence associated genes were found between the cohorts in stool and skin, with more differentially abundant antimicrobial resistance genes in the new NICU. The entire bacterial microbiota analyzed to the genus level significantly differed between cohorts in skin (p = 0.0001) but not in stool samples. There was no difference in alpha diversity between the two cohorts. DNA viruses and fungi were detected but did not differ between cohorts.

Conclusion: Differences were seen in the resistome and virulome between the two cohorts with more differentially abundant antimicrobial resistance genes in the new NICU. This highlights the influence that different NICU environments can have on the neonatal microbiota. Whether the differences were due to the new NICU being a single-family NICU or located in a newly constructed building warrants exploration. Long term health outcomes from the differences observed must be followed longitudinally.