Hospital Hand Sanitizers

Rachael Rettner is a Senior Writer for Live Science who has written information about the hospital superbug.  All employees around the world working in hospitals are slathering on hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of any infections. There is now one type of bacteria in hospitals that appears to be very resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitizers.  This new study comes from Australia that suggests a bacterium called Enterococcus faecium is already resistant to some antibiotics and a leading cause of hospital infections.

This bacterium has been increasing in recent years, despite the use of hand sanitizers in hospitals, and can cause some infections such as urinary tract infections and even sepsis.  The study found that over a 20-year period the strains of E. faecium became able to withstand hand sanitizer and the bacteria wasn’t being killed as well as before.  It doesn’t mean, however, that hospitals should stop using the sanitizer.

Alcohol hand sanitizer has been somewhat successful at controlling MRSA, and also other types of infections.  Co-author Dr. Paul Johnson is an infectious diseases professor at Austin Health in Victoria, Australia who believe to control certain pathogens, the hospitals may need to add new measures such as the use of other disinfectants, possibly chlorine-based ones.  New measure may need to be added for hospitals to add those such as the use of other disinfectants that may be chlorine-based ones.

The team analyzed 139 samples of E. Faecium bacteria that was collected between 1997 and 2015 from two Melbourne hospitals.  Those collected after 2010 were 10-fold more tolerant of alcohol-based sanitizers compared with older samples.  Their paper was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

They found the samples with more tolerance to hand sanitizers had several mutations in genes involved in metabolism that resulted in increased resistance to alcohol.  This might explain the recent rise in drug-resistant E. Faecium infections in the hospitals.  They did note that because the study was conducted in only two Australian hospitals that more are needed to see if the same phenomenon is happening in other parts of the world.

The researchers also can’t say for sure what’s causing the bacteria’s increased tolerance to alcohol, but the findings suggest the use of alcohol-based sanitizers may play a role.  It could also be such as adaptations to better survive in people’s guts that led to increased alcohol resistance.

They are now examining how the genetic mutations found in this study cause increased tolerance to alcohol.

Dr Fredda Branyon