Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

Stop the Spread of Superbugs

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

Help Fight Drug-Resistant Bacteria

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For nearly a century, bacteria-fighting drugs known as antibiotics have helped to control and destroy many of the harmful bacteria that can make us sick.

But in recent decades, antibiotics have been losing their punch against some types of bacteria. In fact, certain bacteria are now unbeatable with today’s medicines.

Sadly, the way we’ve been using antibiotics is helping to create new drug-resistant “superbugs.”

Superbugs are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. Each year these drug-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people nationwide and kill at least 23,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and staph infections are just a few of the dangers we now face.

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs for people. They’re also given to livestock to prevent disease and promote growth. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, such as strep throat and some types of pneumonia, diarrheal diseases, and ear infections. But these drugs don’t work at all against viruses, such as those that cause colds or flu.

Unfortunately, many antibiotics prescribed to people and to animals are unnecessary. And the overuse and misuse of antibiotics helps to create drug-resistant bacteria.

Here’s how that might happen. When used properly, antibiotics can help destroy disease-causing bacteria. But if you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection the flu, the drug won’t affect the viruses making you sick.

Instead, it’ll destroy a wide variety of bacteria in your body, including some of the “good” bacteria that help you digest food, fight infection, and stay healthy. Bacteria that are tough enough to survive the drug will have a chance to grow and quickly multiply.

These drug-resistant strains may even spread to other people.

Over time, if more and more people take antibiotics when not necessary, drug-resistant bacteria can continue to thrive and spread. They may even share their drug-resistant traits with other bacteria. Drugs may become less effective or not work at all against certain disease-causing bacteria.

“Bacterial infections that were treatable for decades are no longer responding to antibiotics, even the newer ones,” says Dr. Dennis Dixon, an NIH expert in bacterial and fungal diseases. Scientists have been trying to keep ahead of newly emerging drug-resistant bacteria by developing new drugs, but it’s a tough task.

“We need to make the best use of the drugs we have, as there aren’t many in the antibiotic development pipeline,” says Dr. Jane Knisely, who oversees studies of drug-resistant bacteria at NIH. “It’s important to understand the best way to use these drugs to increase their effectiveness and decrease the chances of resistance to emerge.”

You can help slow the spread of drug-resistant bacteria by taking antibiotics properly and only when needed. Don’t insist on an antibiotic if your health care provider advises otherwise.

For example, many parents expect doctors to prescribe antibiotics for a child’s ear infection.

But experts recommend delaying for a time in certain situations, as many ear infections get better without antibiotics.

NIH researchers have been looking at whether antibiotics are effective for treating certain conditions in the first place. One recent study showed that antibiotics may be less effective than previously thought for treating a common type of sinus infection. This kind of research can help prevent the misuse and overuse of antibiotics.

“Treating infections with antibiotics is something we want to preserve for generations to come, so we shouldn’t misuse them,” says Dr. Julie Segre, a senior investigator at NIH.

In the past, some of the most dangerous superbugs have been confined to health care settings. That’s because people who are sick or in a weakened state are more susceptible to picking up infections. But superbug infections aren’t limited to hospitals. Some strains are out in the community and anyone, even healthy people, can become infected.

One common superbug increasingly seen outside hospitals is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). These bacteria don’t respond to methicillin and related antibiotics. MRSA can cause skin infections and, in more serious cases, pneumonia or bloodstream infections.

A MRSA skin infection can appear as one or more pimples or boils that are swollen, painful, or hot to the touch.

The infection can spread through even a tiny cut or scrape that comes into contact with these bacteria. Many people recover from MRSA infections, but some cases can be life-threatening.

The CDC estimates that more than 80,000 aggressive MRSA infections and 11,000 related deaths occur each year in the United States.

When antibiotics are needed, doctors usually prescribe a mild one before trying something more aggressive vancomycin. Such newer antibiotics can be more toxic and more expensive than older ones.

Eventually, bacteria will develop resistance to even the new drugs.

In recent years, some superbugs, such as vancomycin-resistant Enterococci bacteria, remain unaffected by even this antibiotic of last resort.

“We rely on antibiotics to deliver modern health care,” Segre says. But with the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, “we’re running new antibiotics to treat bacterial infections,” and some of the more potent ones aren’t working as well.

Ideally, doctors would be able to quickly identify the right antibiotic to treat a particular infection. But labs need days or even weeks to test and identify the bacteria strain. Until the lab results come in, antibiotic treatment is often an educated guess.

“We need to know how to treat for a favorable outcome, but knowledge about the infection can be several days away,” explains Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease expert at Duke University School of Medicine.

Fowler says faster diagnostic testing offers one of the best hopes for treating infectious diseases. Technology is catching up, he says, and new research in this area looks promising.

Genetic studies by NIH-supported researchers such as Segre and Fowler are also helping us understand the unique characteristics of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Their findings could point the way to innovative new treatments.

While scientists search for ways to beat back these stubborn bacteria, you can help by preventing the spread of germs so we depend less on antibiotics in the first place.

The best way to prevent bacterial infections is by washing your hands frequently with soap and water. It’s also a good idea not to share personal items such as towels or razors. And use antibiotics only as directed. We can all do our part to fight drug-resistant bacteria.


Hospital Superbug May Be Developing Tolerance to Hand Sanitizers

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

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, 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— 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.

To find out why VRE infections might be on the rise, researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne studied 139 samples of Enterococcus faecium, a strain of vancomycin-resistant Enterococci, collected from two Melbourne hospitals between 1997 and 2015, reports Live Science’s Rachael Rettner. The researchers exposed the samples to alcohol solutions, and found that the samples collected after 2010 were 10 times more tolerant to alcohol than the earlier ones. Their results are described in a recent paper in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

As NPR’s Schrieber points out, the bacteria don’t yet seem to be fully resistant to hand sanitizers.

But the newer Enterococcus faeciumi samples were able to survive for longer periods of time after being exposed to alcohol solutions.

In fact, it took a 70-percent alcohol mixture to kill the bacteria completely, which is somewhat disconcerting, since hand sanitizers typically boast 60 percent alcohol concentrations.

In the second phase of their experiment, the researchers took four Enterococcus faeciumi samples, two of which were shown to be alcohol tolerant, and smeared them over mice cages.

They then took hospital-grade disinfectant wipes, wiped down the cages, and let mice crawl around inside for an hour.

Subsequent testing revealed that mice exposed to the alcohol-tolerant samples were more ly to have Enterococcus faecium colonizing in their guts.

“It shows that it is not just a laboratory phenomenon that we are measuring here; we are showing this characteristic [of the bacteria] transfers into being able to escape a standard infection control procedure,” Timothy Stinear, one of the authors of the new paper, tells Nicola Davis of the Guardian.

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 as Stinear notes in a video posted by the Doherty Institute, scientists do not fully understand how and why Enterococcus faecium has evolved this adaptation.

It is possible that the bacteria are simply becoming resistant to hand sanitizers, but something more complex could be at work.

“It might also be that the bacterium is doing another trick: it’s becoming better able to live in the low PH of our gut, and that adaptation coincidentally confers resistance to alcohol,” Stinear explains. “That extra advantage that it has, by being able to grow in our gut, means that it’s actually harder to kill when it gets on our hands.”

Another limitation of the new study is its size: the scientists only focused on Australian hospitals.

Further research is needed to determine whether the same patterns of alcohol tolerance are present in other hospitals around the world.

In the meantime, the researchers say, hospitals might want to consider using disinfectants with both alcohol and chlorhexidine, another bacteria-killing compound, to try and cut down on the spread of alcohol-tolerant bugs.

“The alcohol hand-hygiene programs have been highly successful, particularly at controlling MRSA, but also other types of hospital infections, and I would strongly advocate that we continue,” study co-author Paul Johnson says in the Doherty Institute video. “However … we may have to add additional control measures for VRE outbreaks.”

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Hospital superbugs are evolving to survive hand sanitizers

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

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 often carries 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 2015. First, they subjected the germs to low levels of isopropanol, a type of alcohol found in hand sanitizers.

Hand sanitizers often contain 70 percent or more isopropanol or ethanol, which usually annihilates bacteria. The alcohols essentially shred the microbes' outer membranes, causing molecular mayhem and the germs’ innards to leak out. In high concentrations, the alcohols are quickly fatal.

Stiff drink

To keep from simply massacring their isolates, the researchers poured them a watered-down 23-percent isopropanol mixture. This wiped out some, but not all, of the germs. But when they compared the isolates in batches when they were collected, they saw a clear shift. The bacteria collected between 2009 and 2015 had a tenfold higher survival rate than those collected before 2004.

The researchers noted that hospitals began guzzling the alcohol-based sanitizers in 2002. In fact, they went from using 100 liters of alcohol-based hand rubs per month in 2001 to using 1,000 liters per month in 2015—a tenfold increase.

Of course, the hospitals don’t use weak-sauce, 23-percent alcohol sanitizers; they use the deadly 70-percent concentrations. To see if the bacteria’s shift in tolerance was at all relevant to sanitation and infection risks in the hospitals, the researchers turned to mice.

First, the researchers coated the floors of mouse cages with E. faecium strains, either strains that were easily killed by alcohol or ones that had relatively high levels of tolerance.

Then, they mopped the floors with a 70-percent alcohol solution and unleashed the mice to play in the cages for an hour. Afterward, the researchers scanned the rodents’ poops to see how many of them had managed to pick up E.

faecium from the cages, despite the cleaning.

In repeated experiments (and with mock water treatments as controls), the researchers found that the more alcohol-tolerant bacteria were better at surviving the floor cleaning and infecting the mice than their less-tolerant counterparts.

The researchers did genetic comparisons to try to rule out that the alcohol-tolerant isolates were just more infectious than the others—the isolates didn’t seem to be. The team also went on the hunt for genetic changes that might explain the germs’ ability to hold their liquor.

In the case of antibiotic resistance, for example, single genes or mutations can sometimes explain a microbe’s survival. But in this case, alcohol tolerance appears more complicated, involving many genes that act together to harden germs.

Some of those genes seem to be involved in metabolism.

Researchers will need to do far more work to verify and understand alcohol tolerance. But for now, the researchers conclude that:

The development of alcohol-tolerant strains of E. faecium has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of alcohol-based disinfectant standard precautions and may, in part, explain the increase in [vancomycin-resistant Enterococci] infection that is now widely reported in hospitals in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia.

Science Translational Medicine, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aar6115  (About DOIs).


Everyone Has The Hand Sanitizer Story Wrong

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

K. Kendall/flickr There seems to be some confusion out there over a strangely simple thing: hand sanitizer.

A story last week on genius door-handle hand-sanitizer dispensers brought out the commentors, some of whom suggested that hand sanitizers create superbugs.

These “superbugs” — antibiotic-resistant bacteria — are terrifying.

At least 2 million people are infected by these bacteria, including MRSA and Clostridium difficile, every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 23,000 people die as a direct result, and many more die from associated complications.

These bacteria have evolved this way because they've been exposed so frequently to antibiotics and antibacterial substances, that they developed genes to protect themselves from these compounds.

But does hand sanitizer also contribute to the superbug problem? Not usually.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not the problem.

The CDC recommends using sanitizers ( Purell) that contain at least 60% alcohol, which are the same kind used in hospitals.

Alcohol is an antiseptic agent that kills most bacteria on external surfaces on contact, breaking down ALL OF the proteins that make up bacteria and some viruses. (Bleach works similarly, but is much more potent — don't put that directly on your hands.)

Antibiotics, meanwhile, typically target specific aspects of bacteria, and don't just work on external surfaces.

Instead of shattering down a door a sledge hammer the way alcohol does, antibiotics are more keys that fit into very specific keyholes: When they click together, the bacteria are destroyed.

Because alcohol attacks all proteins in the bacteria, not just one, the bacteria can't develop resistance.

When to wash

They don't work as well if hands are visibly dirty or greasy however, and so handwashing is recommended in those circumstances — but not with antibacterial soap, which usually has an ingredient called triclosan that may make the problem of antibiotic resistance worse.

Alcohol-based sanitizers, on the other hand, actually work: They work quickly, and effectively neutralize germs, especially in hospital settings.

Plain old soap and cool water will do, as well. Actually, handwashing is a more effective way to remove some bacteria in the first place, which is why people should still wash their hands regularly.

The tricky triclosan

AP There's one big BUT when discussing hand sanitizers: They can contain the antibiotic compound triclosan or triclocarban. This is often found in soaps and even toothpaste. But its prevalence can make bacteria immune.

First of all, there's no evidence that triclosan is effective at preventing illness in the first place, according to the FDA — so it already doesn't do the one thing that it theoretically should.

But even worse, the FDA says research suggests triclosan may lead to hormonal problems and cause bacteria to adapt to its antimicrobial properties, creating more antibiotic-resistant strains. Additional research shows that people with high levels of triclosan in their noses were twice as ly to carry disease-causing Staph bacteria in the nose.

The real problem creating superbugs

When we take antibiotics to treat an infection, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria are the only ones that survive. They pass on their resistant traits, creating whole strains of resistant bacteria. With enough of these mutations, these bugs can be impossible to kill.

That's because antibiotics are frequently misused or misprescribed, for patients who have a virus (research suggests that this happens up to 50% of the time).

Another huge contributor to the problem is the widespread use of antibiotics in healthy livestock to make them gain weight faster. This also allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to flourish, which the CDC says makes everyone less safe.

But antibiotics can be lifesavers, and they do need to be used sometimes. It's their over-use that's the problem, not alcohol-based hand sanitizer.


Superbugs Are Growing More Resistant to Hand Sanitizer, Scientists Warn

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

Even high-strength hospital disinfectant is losing its effectiveness against superbugs, scientists have warned, with bacteria learning to adapt to survive in the face of alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

It's the alcohol in particular that the bugs are becoming more resistant too, according to new research, which looked specifically at the Enterococcus faecium bacteria – one of the leading causes of infections in hospitals.

A particular group of bacteria, known as vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE), seems to have mutated to prevent alcohol from busting it into oblivion. While it's not time to ditch sanitizer yet, the researchers say, it is time for a rethink.

“This isn't the end of hospital hand hygiene, that's been one of the most effective infection control procedures that we've introduced worldwide,” says one of the team, molecular microbiologist Tim Stinear from the Peter Doherty Institute in Australia. “The WHO recommends it.”

“But we can't rely solely on alcohol-based disinfectants and for some bacteria, VRE, we're going to need additional procedures and policies in place. For hospital this will be super-cleaning regimens, which include alternative disinfectants, maybe chlorine-based.”

The researchers tested a total of 139 samples of E. faecium taken from patients before and after the widespread adoption of alcohol-based hand sanitiser in Australian hospitals, covering a period from 1997 to 2015.

After these samples were exposed to an disinfecting alcohol solution, it was found that the bacteria collected after 2010 were some ten times more tolerant to the substance.

In further tests, some of the bacteria samples were applied to mice cages, then cleaned up using hospital-strength sanitising wipes. 

The mice that were put in a cage with a 2012 strain of E. faecium showed more of it in their poop – a clear indication that the alcohol was not as effective compared to the earlier strains. The later strains of bacteria were proving to be more resistant.

“It shows that it is not just a laboratory phenomenon that we are measuring here,” Stinear told Nicola Davis at the Guardian. “We are showing this characteristic [of the bacteria] transfers into being able to escape a standard infection control procedure.”

Additional genetic analysis of the bacteria resistant to alcohol revealed that they had developed mutations in specific genes linked to cell metabolism. However, the resistance to alcohol seemed to have a different genetic basis than the bacteria's resistance to antibiotics in general.

The VRE group of bacteria are particularly dangerous to patients who've had a course of antibiotics that has disrupted the normal composition of their gut bacteria. In other words, some of the people who are the most sick in hospital are the most at risk.

VRE bugs can go on to cause infections in the urinary tract, wounds, and the bloodstream, and they're already resistant to several classes of antibiotics.

What needs to happen next is more research: further studies that cover more hospitals, more countries, and more strains of bacteria, and studies which try to establish a definitive link between the increased tolerance of E. faecium and the introduction of hand sanitiser in hospitals.

In the meantime, it's important to note that alcohol rubs have been effective in many ways, including cutting rates of MRSA infections in hospitals – these disinfectants essentially blow away the membranes of bacteria cells to kill them off.

But these hand rubs might need to be used in combination with other procedures, the researchers say, and should always be used correctly. People's unwillingness to clean their hands for a full 20-30 seconds, as is recommended, could be one of the reasons why this bacteria has had a chance to mutate and become resistant.

The researchers suggest that as well as longer periods of hand-washing, hand sanitisers with a higher percentage of alcohol and more efficient patient isolation might also help. We should also be looking at more comprehensive cleaning regimes, they say.

“An extra level of infection control, that doesn't just rely on alcohol-based disinfectants is required,” says Stinear.

The research has been published in Science Translational Medicine.


These germs already resist antibiotics. Can they defy alcohol, too?

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

Drug-resistant superbugs, already a big problem in hospitals, may have learned a new trick, researchers reported Wednesday.

They may have evolved resistance to alcohol — the ingredient in hand sanitizers and disinfectants that are one mainstay of hospital infection control, Australian researchers said.

A 3D image of a cluster of paired vancomycin-resistant enterococcus bacteria. James Archer / U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If true, it could be even harder than it already is to control the spread of infection in hospitals, the researchers wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

If bacteria can evade the effects of alcohol, it will come as a surprise to many microbiologists, who have assumed that it could not happen. While bacteria can evolve the ability to resist antibiotics, for instance by pumping them out, alcohol kills more efficiently.

The team at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne identified and studied a strain of vancomycin-resistant enterococci called Enterococcus faecium. It is a common hospital nuisance and while not particularly deadly, it can make hospitalized patients even sicker. (Vancomycin is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections.)

“The development of alcohol-tolerant strains of E. faecium has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of alcohol-based disinfectant standard precautions and may, in part, explain the increase in VRE infection that is now widely reported in hospitals in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia,” they wrote in their report.

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The World Health Organization says antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a “fundamental threat” and has made fighting them a priority.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 23,000 Americans die every year from drug-resistant infections.

The need to battle the spread of these germs is the reason why people are constantly reminded to wash their hands and why dispensers of alcohol foam or gel have appeared everywhere in hospitals and in other public spaces.

But the Australian team said their findings indicate that people will have to be careful how they use these hand sanitizers.

They started their study a few years ago, after Australia began a hand sanitizer campaign.

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci are a major hospital nuisance.U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In a video released by the Doherty Institute, Dr. Paul Johnson, an infectious-diseases specialist, said the team wanted to know why a superbug known as MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, was being so well controlled with the new national hand hygiene.

“But we started to notice also a gradual increase in VRE infections and this seemed a paradox because both infections should be controlled using standard hand hygiene.”

They ran a series of experiments, including one in which they took old samples of VRE dating back to 1997, and new samples from 2015, and grew them in dishes with diluted alcohol. The newer samples grew better.

“We were also able to identify and document the specific genetic changes that have occurred in the bacteria over the 20 years, which also helps to explain the increased tolerance,” microbiologist Tim Stinear of the University of Melbourne, who helped lead the study team, said in a statement.

Not everyone is sold on the idea.

“The jury’s still out as to whether this should raise a major alarm,” said Dr. Cindy Liu, chief medical officer of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University.

The report “doesn’t seem it could fully explain what is going on,” added Liu, who was not involved in the research.

Nevertheless, she said, the study did seem to show that bacteria can survive in low concentrations of alcohol, which would provide a good reason for people to be more careful in using hand sanitizers. “The effectiveness of the alcohol depends on how you apply it,” Liu told NBC News.

The Australian team said hospitals sometimes use hand sanitizers with two different germ-killing compounds, such as alcohol and chlorhexidine. That may be a better strategy going forward, they said. And they noted that foams and gels tend to be less effective at killing germs than liquids.

Liu agreed. Just as with washing hands with soap and water, it takes time to kill germs using hand sanitizers. People may not realize that they must thoroughly soak their hands. “You have to leave them on at least 30 seconds,” she added.

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Superbugs are becoming resistant to alcohol disinfectants, study says – National

Video: Superbugs may be developing resistance to hand sanitisers

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Hand sanitizer is no longer enough to kill some drug-resistant bacteria, a new study says.

Multidrug-resistant “superbugs” that can cause dangerous infections in hospitals are becoming increasingly resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitizers and disinfectants designed to hold them at bay.

In a study of what the researchers described as a “new wave of superbugs”, the team also found specific genetic changes over 20 years in vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, or VRE – and were able to track and show its growing resistance.

Their findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

VRE bugs can cause urinary tract, wound and bloodstream infections that are notoriously difficult to treat, mainly because they are resistant to several classes of antibiotics.

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In efforts to tackle the rise of hospital superbugs such as VRE and MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, institutions worldwide have adopted stringent hygiene steps – often involving hand rubs and washes that contain alcohol.

WATCH: McMaster University researchers have discovered an existing drug can break through the shell of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Though it’s a preliminary step, it’s being hailed as a small victory in the global war against superbugs. Shirlee Engel reports.

2:05 Canadian researchers make dent in war on superbugs

Canadian researchers make dent in war on superbugs

Tim Stinear, a microbiologist at Australia’s Doherty Institute who co-led the study, said that in Australia alone, use of the alcohol-based hand hygiene has increased tenfold over the past 20 years.

“So we are using a lot and the environment is changing,” he said.

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Yet while rates of MRSA and other infections have stabilised due to heightened hygiene, Stinear said, VRE infection rates have not. This prompted his team to investigate the VRE bug for potential resistance to disinfectant alcohols.

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.

They found that samples collected after 2009 were on average more resistant to the alcohol compared with bacteria taken from before 2004.

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The scientists then spread the bacteria onto the floors of mouse cages and found that the alcohol-resistant samples were more ly to get into, and grow in the guts of the mice after the cages were cleaned with isopropyl alcohol wipes.

Paul Johnson, a professor of infectious diseases at Austin Health in Australia who also co-led the study, said the findings should not prompt any dramatic change in the use of alcohol-based disinfectants.

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

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Stinear said health authorities should try higher-alcohol concentrate products and renew efforts to ensure hospitals are deep cleaned and patients found to be carrying VRE infections are isolated.