The Australian hospitals in early 2000, had begun installing more hand-sanitizers in their hallways and rooms for the patients, visitors, and staff to use. And why not? The researchers suggested that these alcohol-based sanitizers helped certain kind of drug-resistant bacteria and staph infections in patients. The results were positive.
Certain infections like enterococcal infections that affect the bladder, digestive tract and other parts of the body went up despite using the sanitizer dispensers.
The incidents were not only reported in Australia but also in the other parts of the world. Although the hand sanitizers gained popularity, there was no decrease in these types of infections.
In Europe and North America, enterococci are the leading cause of sepsis, one of the lethal blood infections. Researchers cite alcohol as the culprit.
A recent research published on Wednesday by Science Translational Medicine indicating that quite a few bacteria have begun adapting to the alcohol-based disinfectants.
However, they are not completely resistant yet, but they are becoming “more tolerant”. Which means the despite being doused with alcohol, the bacteria were able to persist for an extended period.
Starting with 23%, the researchers used different strengths of alcohol dilution to fight the bacteria. Ultimately, at a 70% alcohol concentration, the bacteria were killed. Characteristically hand sanitizers contain 60 % alcohol.
To make it even worse, the majority of these bacteria are tolerant to multiple drugs too. Vancomycin, a last-line antibiotic too proved to be ineffective. Furthermore, the bacteria spread more easily in the hospitals, and unfortunately, there are not many options available for the treatment.
The researchers were taken aback by the findings.
In the first place, the researchers paralleled 139 forms of bacteria, looking at the same species for over 19 years that is from 1997 to 2015. As compared to the pre-2004 bacteria, bacteria collected after 2009 were 10x more tolerant.
It’s risky to test these drug-resistant bacteria on people, as the bacteria don’t always operate in the lab the way it operates in your body. Thus, the researchers resorted to the common way of testing, i.e. experimenting with mice.
The results were quite similar to that of the humans. Even when the cages of the mice were cleaned with an alcohol solution, the guts of mice instantly showed signs of alcohol-resistant bacteria.
Stinear says if the health-care institutes want to control the spread of such infections, they need to “adhere rigorously to hand-hygiene protocols” and need to promote other measures like switching to washing hands with soap and water.
The founding director of GW’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center and a professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, Lancer Price too was amazed by the research studies.
Price says, “if you feel confident after washing your hands with alcohol-based sanitizer and as a result, you start washing your hands, then suddenly you can become a carrier for alcohol-tolerant organisms.”
Not only enterococci, for that matter, any bacteria may begin tolerating alcohol. For example, C. diff is another type of rising infection that has hard shells, making them difficult to be killed by alcohol. So, the best way to finish them off is by washing them down the drain.
Like those bacteria that cause staph infections, alcohol-based hand disinfectants are more effective at battling them, suggests the studies. However, the studies also indicate that bacteria are best cleaned off with simple soap and water.