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Open Access Research article

Phenotypic and molecular characterization of Staphylococcus aureus isolates expressing low- and high-level mupirocin resistance in Nigeria and South Africa

Adebayo O Shittu13*, Edet E Udo2 and Johnson Lin3

Author affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

2 Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, Kuwait University, Kuwait City, Kuwait

3 School of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal (Westville Campus), Private Bag X54001, Durban, Republic of South Africa

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Citation and License

BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-10

Published: 28 January 2009



Mupirocin is a topical antimicrobial agent which is used for the treatment of skin and postoperative wound infections, and the prevention of nasal carriage of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). However, the prevalence of mupirocin resistance in S. aureus, particularly in MRSA, has increased with the extensive and widespread use of this agent in hospital settings. This study characterized low- and high-level mupirocin-resistant S. aureus isolates obtained from Nigeria and South Africa.


A total of 17 mupirocin-resistant S. aureus isolates obtained from two previous studies in Nigeria and South Africa, were characterized by antibiogram, PCR-RFLP of the coagulase gene and PFGE. High-level mupirocin resistant isolates were confirmed by PCR detection of the mupA gene. The genetic location of the resistance determinants was established by curing and transfer experiments.


All the low-level mupirocin resistant isolates were MRSA and resistant to gentamicin, tetracycline and trimethoprim. PFGE identified a major clone in two health care institutions located in Durban and a health care facility in Pietermaritzburg, Greytown and Empangeni. Curing and transfer experiments indicated that high-level mupirocin resistance was located on a 41.1 kb plasmid in the South African strain (A15). Furthermore, the transfer of high-level mupirocin resistance was demonstrated by the conjugative transfer of the 41.1 kb plasmid alone or with the co-transfer of a plasmid encoding resistance to cadmium. The size of the mupirocin-resistance encoding plasmid in the Nigerian strain (35 IBA) was approximately 35 kb.


The emergence of mupirocin-resistant S. aureus isolates in Nigeria and South Africa should be of great concern to medical personnel in these countries. It is recommended that methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) and MRSA should be routinely tested for mupirocin resistance even in facilities where the agent is not administered. Urgent measures, including judicious use of mupirocin, need to be taken to prevent clonal dissemination of the mupirocin/methicillin resistant S. aureus in KZN, South Africa and the transfer of the conjugative plasmid encoding high-level mupirocin resistance identified in this study.