This investigation was undertaken to determine the magnitude of, and interrelations between, reservoirs of coagulase negative staphylococci on infants' skin at various sites (including sites used for insertion of intravascular catheters) and in faeces during the first six months of life. Sites with large numbers of coagulase negative staphylococci were identified by sampling 16 skin sites and stools from 20 preterm neonates at 8-30 days of life. A more detailed survey of numbers and types of coagulase negative staphylococci in stool and at six skin sites of 10 preterm infants was then performed over the first six months of life. Isolates of coagulase negative staphylococci were collected and characterised by speciation, antibiotic susceptibility profiling, and plasmid restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. Large, relatively stable reservoirs were identified in the faeces, around the ear, and in the axilla and nares. Skin on the forearm and leg, sites at which peripheral catheters are frequently sited, carried small unstable numbers of coagulase negative staphylococci, which were usually indistinguishable from coagulase negative staphylococci isolated from other body sites on the same baby. Contamination of catheter insertion sites with coagulase negative staphylococci from reservoir sites on the same baby could explain these observations. These data suggest that interventions reducing cross-contamination between sites on the same baby might be as important in preventing coagulase negative staphylococcal bacteraemias as measures taken to prevent cross infection between babies. Procedures which are likely to result in heavy coagulase negative staphylococcal contamination of the hands of healthcare staff, such as changing soiled nappies, should receive particular attention.
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