Caister Academic Press

Oral Biofilms as a Reservoir for Extra-oral Pathogens: Ventilator Associated Pneumonia

John G. Thomas
from: Oral Microbial Ecology: Current Research and New Perspectives (Edited by: Nicholas S. Jakubovics and Robert J. Palmer Jr.). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2013)


The link between oral flora and lung infections in mechanically ventilated (MV) patients (the 'Oral Systemic Link') has always been circumstantial, based on clinical and nursing practices and preventative care. At the turn of the 20th century, that began to change as molecular and imaging methods provided tools to better evaluate microbial exchange, refocusing on the importance of the endotracheal tube (ETT) lumen as a potential conduit, devoid of normal cellular defensive components. We undertook the challenge in two phases, first engineering the Adult -Ventilator Endotracheal Lung (A-VEL) simulator to replicate the closed, bi-directional airway and stress of the intubated patient in the intensive care unit (ICU). Of singular importance, was the incorporation of multiple quantitative imaging techniques to define the 3-D biofilm luminal development in Stages (I-IV) from single to complex microbial communities and the incorporation of dental pathogens (Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis) as an endogenous event, in the preconditioning of the ETT luminal surface, an abiotic medical device. The second phase shifted to the in vivo environment and in multiple clinical studies, unmasked the bi-phasic nature of ETT luminal colonization, oral-endogenous (Early) to systemic - exogenous (Late) at a 3-5 day 'switch'. Further, the ICU studies dramatized the shift from the infectious process in VAP to Work of Breathing (WOB), where the former occurred in 16%, while biofilm accretion, occlusion of the ETT lumen and increased airway resistance occurred in 100% of intubated patients. Most recently, we have used both 16S (microarray) and 18S rRNA (pyrosequencing) to redefine the proportions of bacteria and fungi from oral reservoirs, and been astonished by the richness and diversity of the oral fungal community in the ETT accretion occlusion, often yielding >15 species . Endotracheal Tube Associated Pneumonia (EAP) management continues to elude optimal strategies, but the use of selected oral probiotics coupled with better oral care in both the ICU and admitting institutions is gaining reinforcement: "Oral Stewardship". Further, the utilization of dental professionals in the ICU has importance, as has the recognition that the next fertile area of airway disease (oral to systemic) study is the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where 50% of newborns may be intubated and develop EAP with no teeth. How? Why?
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