A study finds that a common gut bacteria species is getting more and more tolerant to the alcohol-based hand sanitizers often used in hospitals.

Don’t dump that hand sanitizer just yet because it remains to be important in the prevention of the spread of pathogens.

Tolerant Bacteria In Hospitals

Alcohol-based disinfectants such as hand sanitizers are widely used globally to aid in the prevention of the spread of germs and bacteria. Particularly in hospitals, such disinfectants prevent the transmission of potentially harmful pathogens, including some bacteria that are already multidrug-resistant. However, it is noted that despite the wide use of disinfectants, cases of Enterococcus faecium infections have been increasing of late.

According to a study that was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, E. faecium has been growing increasingly tolerant of alcohol-based disinfectants. To get to this conclusion, researchers collected nearly 140 E. faecium isolates from hospitals between the years of 1997 and 2015 and tested to see the alcohol-tolerance of each one.

10 Times More Tolerant

What they found was that the isolates from after 2010 were significantly more tolerant compared to their older counterparts. In fact, they found the newer isolates to be 10 times more tolerant of alcohol than the older samples, meaning that they are significantly less likely to be killed with the disinfectants. Further, a mouse gut colonization model even revealed that the alcohol-tolerant bacteria resisted the standard 70 percent isopropanol disinfection.

“There are two things we are working on. One is understanding exactly how the bacteria are becoming more tolerant ... The second is what's going on in other parts of the world, and we are working with colleagues around the world to address that,” said Tim Stinear of the University of Melbourne, co-author of the study.

E. Faecium

Enterococcus faecium is actually a common gut bacteria but can cause serious illness when encountered at a hospital, with the illnesses ranging from urinary tract infections to bloodstream and surgical wound infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Enterococcus spp. are the fifth most common cause of health care-related infections They are becoming even more problematic by the fact that they are also becoming antibiotic-resistant, making them a major global public health issue.

Keep Alcohol Close

Despite the results of the study, experts still urge the public to keep alcohol as an ally against germs and bacteria. While the results do show that it is possible for bacteria to become resistant to alcohol disinfectants, it’s worth noting that the study deals specifically with one type of bacteria that has been responsible for increasing infections in hospitals and that the situation is different for everyday hand sanitizer use and the use of such products in health care facilities.

In hospitals, it is vulnerable patients who are being exposed to such bacteria in a closed environment, whereas everyday users of hand sanitizers and alcohol use the disinfectants to kill germs and prevent foodborne illnesses.

Simply put, the situation in hospitals is wildly different from that of everyday disinfectant use, and hand sanitizers remain to be an important part of keeping germs and illnesses at bay.

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