A new study links flare-ups of cystic fibrosis to a chronic bacterial infection, a finding that could give physicians new insight into the disease and offer a new target for medication.
The germ in question is called Stenotrophomonas maltophilia.
“Our study showed that chronic infection with S. maltophilia, which was previously not regarded as prognostically significant, may have a real impact on the progression of CF in patients,” said study co-author Dr. Valerie Waters, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“We hope that this study is a starting point for further research, which may point to therapeutic possibilities associated with controlling these infections,” she said in a news release from the American Thoracic Society.
Cystic fibrosis is a congenital disease, meaning people are born with it. It produces thick mucus in the lungs and digestive tract that causes infections and can lead to early deaths. Flare-ups can permanently damage the lungs.
According to the news release, patients with cystic fibrosis are living longer (average lifespan is 35 years) but developing more of certain kinds of infections. One of those is S. maltophilia, which has been found in about a third of patients.
In the study, researchers followed almost 700 patients for 12 years. Those who showed signs of infection had weaker lungs and a higher risk of flare-ups.
“This study . . . points to the possibility that chronic infection has a real and significant clinical impact on these patients,” Waters said.
The study was published online Oct. 1 ahead of print publication in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.