Superbugs now also becoming resistant to alcohol disinfectants

Henrietta Strickland
August 4, 2018

Hand sanitizer is no longer enough to kill some drug-resistant bacteria, a new study says.

However, scientists have discovered that the use of alcohol sanitizers has led to increased frequency of diseases caused by vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). Administered as a preventative and treatment against infections caused by thousands of animals living together in tight conditions with little access to fresh air or sunlight, antibiotics are also used to enhance animal growth.

Handwash sanitisers commonly used in hospitals are becoming increasingly ineffective against a notorious superbug, research has shown.

Their findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In efforts to tackle the rise of hospital superbugs such as VRE and MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, institutions worldwide have adopted stringent hygiene steps - often involving hand rubs and washes that contain alcohol.

While this approach has been affective in stabilising the levels of MRSA, VRE infection rates have not been affected in the same way.

Those obtained after 2009 were found to be more tolerant to the disinfectant than those sampled before 2004.

This prompted Tim Stinear, a microbiologist at the Doherty Institute in Australia to investigate the VRE bug for potential resistance to disinfectant alcohols.

"So we are using a lot and the environment is changing", he said.

The researchers analyzed 139 isolated bacterial samples from two Melbourne hospitals, gathered from 1997 up until 2015, and examined how well each of them managed to resist exposure to diluted isopropyl alcohol.

Alcohol-tolerant microbes were better able to colonise the guts of mice after the cages were cleaned with disinfectant wipes. "A global response to E. faecium will need to include consideration of its adaptive responses not only to antibiotics but also to alcohols and the other active agents in disinfectant solutions that have become so critical for effective infection control".

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