Bacteria May Have Developed Resistance to Alcohol

Superbugs becoming resistant to alcohol disinfectants

But now, at least one type of bacteria in hospitals appears to be growing more tolerant to alcohol-based hand sanitizers, a new study from Australia suggests.

The team found that the strain has the potential to evade the effectiveness of alcohol-based disinfectant standard precautions and could be the cause of an increase in VRE infection common in hospitals across Europe, Asia, the Americas and Australia.

"Alcohol-based hand rubs are global pillars of hospital infection control and remain highly effective in reducing transmission of other hospital superbugs, particularly MRSA", he said.

They screened 139 isolated bacterial samples collected between 1997 and 2015 from two hospitals in Melbourne and studied how well each one survived when exposed to diluted isopropyl alcohol. Results were published last week in Science Translational Medicine.

"Our findings do not signal the end of hand sanitisers, but indicate you can not rely exclusively on alcohol-based disinfectants to control E faecium in the hospital/health care setting". In the first part of the examination, the germs were treated with a mixture of water and 23 percent of isopropanol, a type of alcohol commonly used in hand sanitizers.

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"The isolates gathered after 2009 were on average more tolerant to the alcohol compared to bacteria taken from before 2004", said the report.

When the researchers analyzed the DNA of the Enterococcus faecium samples, they found that the alcohol-tolerant bacteria had several mutations in genes connected to metabolism, which could explain their ability to withstand alcohol disinfectants.

But researchers have noticed a rise in another kind of bacteria that lives in the gut, called Enterococcus faecium, and can be spread via catheters, ventilators or central lines in a health care setting. It is possible that the bacteria are simply becoming resistant to hand sanitizers, but something more complex could be at work.

In the second phase of the study, the resistant and non-resistant strains of the bacteria were spread on the floors of mouse cages, then a 70 percent alcohol solution was used to wash the surfaces.

The researchers - led by infectious disease expert Paul Johnson and microbiologist Timothy Stinear of the University of Melbourne - said hospitals shouldn't stop using hand sanitizer based on these findings.

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