Understanding MRSA clonal competition within a UK hospital; the possible importance of density dependence

Anneke S. de Vos, Sake J. de Vlas, Jodi A. Lindsay, Mirjam E.E. Kretzschmar, Gwenan M. Knight*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria cause serious, often healthcare-associated infections and are frequently highly resistant to diverse antibiotics. Multiple MRSA clonal complexes (CCs) have evolved independently and countries have different prevalent CCs. It is unclear when and why the dominant CC in a region may switch. Methods: We developed a mathematical deterministic model of MRSA CC competing for limited resource. The model distinguishes ‘standard MRSA’ and multidrug resistant sub-populations within each CC, allowing for resistance loss and transfer between same CC bacteria. We first analysed how dynamics of this system depend on growth-rate and resistance-potential differences between CCs, and on their resistance gene accumulation. We then fit the model to capture the longitudinal CC dynamics observed at a single UK hospital, which exemplified the UK-wide switch from mainly CC30 to mainly CC22. Results: We find that within a CC, gain and loss of resistance can allow for co-existence of sensitive and resistant sub-populations. Due to more efficient transfer of resistance at higher CC density, more drug resistance can accumulate in the population of a more prevalent CC. We show how this process of density dependent competition, together with prevalence disruption, could explain the relatively sudden switch from mainly CC30 to mainly CC22 in the UK hospital setting. Alternatively, the observed hospital dynamics could be reproduced by assuming that multidrug resistant CC22 evolved only around 2004. Conclusions: We showed how higher prevalence may advantage a CC by allowing it to acquire antimicrobial resistances more easily. Due to this density dependence in competition, dominance in an area can depend on historic contingencies; the MRSA CC that happened to be first could stay dominant because of its high prevalence advantage. This then could help explain the stability, despite frequent stochastic introductions across borders, of geographic differences in MRSA CC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100511
Pages (from-to)1-12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Clonal competition
  • Density dependence
  • Epidemiology
  • Mathematical modelling
  • MRSA


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