Coagulase-negative staphylococci (C-NS) are a frequent cause of bacteraemia in premature neonates. It is likely that the strains of C-NS causing bacterial sepsis in premature neonates have their origin on the patient's skin surface. We have studied the quantitative development of the skin microflora at eight sites on premature neonates. A swab wash method was used to sample and enumerate the cutaneous microflora of premature neonates admitted to an intensive care unit with respiratory distress syndrome. The numbers of bacteria present on the skin increased rapidly by 100-fold in the first week of life. The species of C-NS found on neonatal skin were similar to those found on adult skin. However, the bacterial population was 10(3) lower by comparison. There was considerable variation in numbers of bacteria and in the proportion resistant to antibiotics from day to day. There appeared to be no association between antibiotic usage and the proportion of isolates resistant to antibiotics, although the resident bacteria were in many cases resistant to a variety of antibiotics. C-NS were isolated from 92% of samples from which bacteria were isolated. Staphylococcus epidermidis was found at all sites and accounted for 82% of each colonial type of staphylococcus isolated. Other organisms isolated included Propionibacterium sp, alpha-haemolytic streptococci, aerobic spore-bearing bacilli, aerobic coryneforms, Candida albicans, Klebsiella oxytoca, Pityrosporum sp, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Escherichia coli. The results of this study suggest that the skin of premature neonates is colonised with antibiotic resistant C-NS during the first week of life and that the chance of contamination of an intravascular catheter at insertion increases during this period.
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