Hospital hygiene may be helping superbugsJanuary 2, 2010 - 7:24pm
A new Galway study that discovered hand sanitizers and disinfectants aimed at combating bacteria could actually lead to the growth of hospital superbugs, has grabbed the global headlines this week.
Researchers at NUI, Galway found that some germs forge a resistance to antibiotics and can even do so without being exposed to the antibiotics, given the help of a simple cleaning agent.
The findings of the study are published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Microbiology and have been ‘picked up’ this week by all the major global news wires, US and Canadian television networks, including CBC News, and several national and specialist medical newspapers in the US, Europe and Asia, including the Times of India and Toronto Star.
Bacteria for years has been known to develop a resistance to disinfectant and antibiotics but this discovery shows that disinfectant can actually help foster that resistance to bacteria.
The researchers found that when the disinfectant benzalkonium chloride is added to common bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa – and when increasing the amount of disinfectant overtime – the bacteria learned how to survive.
The bacteria also learned how to withstand a commonly prescribed antibiotic, ciproflaxin, even though they had never come in contact with it.
The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes gastrointestinal infections and can kill people whose immune systems are weak such as those with cystic fibrosis, cancer and AIDS. The bug is becoming more common in hospitals and is increasingly becoming the cause of hospital-acquired infections among patients.
“In principle, this means that residue from incorrectly diluted disinfectants left on hospital surfaces could promote the growth of anti-biotic-resistant bacteria. What is more worrying is that bacteria seem to be able to adapt to resist antibiotics without even being exposed to them,” said Dr Gerard Fleming, lead author of the study.
Dr Fleming said using a small amount of disinfectant in hospitals could actually encourage the growth of bacteria. “I’m not saying don’t use disinfectants. But they have to be used properly and in the right context,” he added.