Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Hospital superbugs are evolving to survive hand sanitizers

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |

This isn’t good —

The drug-resistant bacteria aren’t resistant to alcohol sanitizers—yet.


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A woman wearing a surgical mask washing her hands with a hand sanitizer.

Popular hand sanitizers may be heading the way of antibiotics, according to a study published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

Bacteria gathered from two hospitals in Australia between 1997 and 2015 appeared to gradually get better at surviving the alcohol used in hand sanitizers, researchers found. The bacteria’s boost in booze tolerance seemed in step with the hospitals’ gradually increasing use of alcohol-based sanitizers within that same time period—an increase aimed at improving sanitation and thwarting the spread of those very bacteria. Yet the germ surveillance data as well as a series of experiments the researchers conducted in mice suggest that the effort might be backfiring and that the hooch hygiene may actually be encouraging the spread of drug-resistant pathogens.

The researchers, led by infectious disease expert Paul Johnson and microbiologist Timothy Stinear of the University of Melbourne, summarized the findings, writing:

We have proposed here that the significant positive relationship between time and increasing alcohol tolerance is a response of the bacteria to increased exposure to alcohols in disinfectant preparations and that the more tolerant strains are able to displace their less alcohol-tolerant predecessors.

Johnson, Stinear, and colleagues cracked open the research after noting a puzzling pattern in hospital-acquired infections. While healthcare settings were upping their sanitation game with alcohol-based rubs, certain nefarious germs seemed to be in decline—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, for instance—yet another set of germs seemed to be thriving. Those would be Enterococci bacteria, which are usually harmless occupants of the human gut but can become opportunistic pathogens that lurk in hospitals and pounce on vulnerable patients.

A species called Enterococcus faecium is of particular concern as it has become a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections and is often totes resistance to multiple antibiotics, including a last-line drug called vancomycin.

To understand why these germs seemed to be in such high spirits, the researchers examined a collection of 139 E. faecium bacteria collected from infected patients in two Australian hospitals between 1997 and 201

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