Hospital superbug may Be developing tolerance to hand sanitizers
Originally published on Smithsonian.
Hand sanitizers have become important tools in combating the spread of infections, particularly in health care settings; nowadays, you can’t walk far in a hospital or medical clinic without seeing clusters of disinfectant dispensers. But as Maggie Fox reports for NBC News, researchers in Australia have found that one prevalent hospital superbug, which is already resistant to multiple drugs, is becoming more tolerant to the alcohol in hand sanitizers.
In the early 2000s, Australia began to systematically use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in its hospitals. Infections caused by some types of drug-resistant bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), subsequently went down. But to the surprise of medical researchers, disinfectants did not seem to do much to curtail the spread of bacterial infections caused by so-called superbug vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE); in fact, VRE infections in Australian hospitals started going up.
Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci are types of bacteria that can live in the intestines and female genital tract, and they don’t typically cause disease in healthy people. But among compromised patients—like those with weakened immune systems due to cancer treatments or organ transplants—VRE can cause urinary tract, wound and bloodstream infections. VRE bugs are hard to treat because they are resistant to several types of antibiotics.
And Australia is not the only country struggling to clamp down on the spread of VRE in hospitals. According to Melody Schreiber of NPR, nations around the world have seen increasing rates of enterococcal infections, despite greater use of hand sanitizers.