While many people reach for hand wash or hand sanitiser to protect themselves from germs and other bugs, new research has found that some bacteria may be growing resistance to these methods.
Alcohol-based disinfectants and hand rubs are a key way may hospitals control infections all around the world, but new Australian research has found a worrying superbug known as vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) is growing increasingly resistant to the standard disinfectants. The results, published in the Science Translational Medicine Journal, explained that scientists made the discovery after testing bacterial samples over a period of 19 years.
In many cases, VRE infections are hard to treat because the bacteria are already resistant to other classes of antibiotics. As a result, hospitals in Australia and around the globe have implemented strict hand-washing procedures to protect themselves and patients against the bugs. Hand rubs and washing containing isopropyl and ethyl alcohol disinfectants are commonly used.
Researchers analysed 139 enterococcus samples from two hospitals between 1997 and 2015 to analyse how bugs survived when exposed to isopropyl. Interestingly, researchers found samples collected after 2009 were more tolerant to disinfectant that samples collected earlier. Another study found bacteria planted on the floors of laboratory mouse cages that were alcohol-tolerant were able to colonise the guts of the mice. The research team has noted the focus should now be shifted on how bacteria become resistant to disinfectants and antibiotics.
It’s not the first research to link hand washes and soaps to antibiotic resistance. In June, research found Triclosan, an ingredient found in toothpaste, hand wash and more than 2,000 other personal care products has been found to lead to antibiotic resistance, even though it is an anti-fungal and antibacterial agent.
Meanwhile, other health conditions are becoming drug-resistant, with cases of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea becoming harder to treat. Health authorities were baffled earlier this year when a British man developed a case of Neisseria gonorrhoeae that wouldn’t respond to treatments that usually work. It took months for health experts to eventually cure the man.
Still, it’s important to continue using hand wash and other protective barriers, especially in the cooler months.
AMA President Tony Bartone previously told Starts at 60 when it comes to minimising the spread of influenza, prevention and preventative barrier techniques such as washing hands or wearing a face mask were extremely effective and should be practiced by all, especially at the height of epidemics and in very populated areas. He also said vaccinations are equally as important in stopping the spread of deadly viruses.