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Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase / ESBL

ESBL are enzymes that are produced by bacteria and can break down common antibiotics making them ineffective. The types of bacteria that are most commonly associated with ESBL are E. coli and Klebsiella. ESBL were mostly found in Klebsiella during the 1990's, typically within intensive care units in hospitals.

Until recently, the number of patients affected has been small with little sign of spreading further. However, a new type of ESBL called CTX-M enzymes has recently emerged and been detected in E.coli bacteria.

E.coli is a bacterium found in the human bowel and is necessary for digestion. However, when E.coli gets into areas it does not belong, it can lead to infections. An infection can occur through direct contact with an individual with ESBL or a contaminated area.

Once caught an infection is incredibly difficult to treat with antibiotics. Therefore it is vital that regular cleaning of surfaces and hands is done to avoid it spreading. For most individuals, ESBL does not cause harm or symptoms and carriers of the virus will not require treatment as it could leave to an increased resistance.


Only a few people develop symptoms, but they can include:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood infections

These infections can be very serious so knowing if a person has ESBL E.coli is important to ensure the most appropriate treatment is prescribed. Risk factors for contracting an ESBL infection in hospital includes:

  • Previous antibiotic use
  • Catheters
  • Length of stay
  • Poor health
  • Admission to an intensive care unit


For carriers of the ESBL E.coli virus that are not ill, no treatment will be needed. Antibiotics to rid an individual of ESBL E.coli should only be taken if there are symptoms of an infection. Not treating the carriers of ESBL E.coli will help to prevent further resistance to antibiotics; carriers will usually clear this virus without any treatment. A consultation with an infection control specialist should be taken into consideration for those with symptoms of ESBL E.coli.

Find out more about Superbugs Caught in Hospitals

This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Please read our medical disclaimer.