The risk of getting blood poisoning from Staphylococci may be found in our genes

Statens Serum Institut has contributed to the first study that demonstrates that first-degree relatives of people who have been hospitalized with staphylococcal* sepsis (blood poisoning), have up to five times greater risk of getting the disease compared to the Danish population in general - but what causes this increased risk?

The study is based on statistical analyses of data from the Danish registers including the unique staphylococcal sepsis register at Statens Serum Institut. Researchers followed 34,774 Danes with first-degree relatives who had suffered staphylococcal-sepsis between 1992-2011. The study demonstrated a two - five times increased risk (compared to the general population) of developing sepsis if a parent or sibling had been hospitalized with severe sepsis. None of the generally acknowledged risk factors explains this markedly increased risk among first-degree relatives.

"Our results indicate, very convincingly, that the increased risk may be partially genetically determined. We tested whether the increased risk, among other things, could be due to the way we live, e.g. direct infection from one family member to another or diseases and operations, which themselves increase the risk of disease, but there are no indications that this is the case. Our results are surprisingly robust, and therefore we conclude that the increased incidence of blood poisoning among the families is most likely due to genetic factors." said study lead author Dr Louise Bruun Østergaard, MD, who is a PhD student at Aalborg University and Cardiology, Herlev Gentofte Hospital.

Knowledge about genes that increase susceptibility to staphylococci in humans could have important implications for the prevention of disease and consequent reduction in the number of people who die from blood poisoning.

"The results from this study gives us the foundation we have missed to start genetic studies that could detect genes associated with susceptibility to this serious form of blood poisoning", says co-author Professor Paal Skytt Andersen from the Statens Serum Institut. "We will use our expertise in identifying genetic markers to get a better understanding of why some people are at increased risk for staphylococcal sepsis."

The study is the product of a collaboration between Aalborg University, Herlev Gentofte Hospital and the Statens Serum Institut and was published in the renowned journal “Annals of Internal Medicine”. Research funding was received from “Hjerteforeningen” and a description of the project can be read on their webpage.

* = yellow staphylococci (Staphylococcus aureus)

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Microbiology & Infection Control
Paal Skytt Andersen
Head of Unit

Tel: + 45 3268 8190