Bacteria are steadily winning the war against even our strongest antibiotics, stoking fears of a future that resembles Victorian-era England in all the worst ways. A new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine is sure to add to this existential terror: It suggests that at least some hospital-spread bugs are also starting to fend off alcohol-based disinfectants. The Australia-based researchers behind the study were trying to make sense of a worrying paradox. Starting in 2002, Australia’s hospitals introduced and promoted the widespread use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers for its doctors—a trend that’s now standard throughout the country and elsewhere, including in the United States. Three years later, the researchers found that these programs slowed down the rate of certain antibiotic-resistant infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), within hospitals. But in more recent years, doctors have noticed that the rate of other drug-resistant infections in hospitals, particularly those caused by Enterococcus faecium, had only increased since their introduction. Hoping to find out why, they compared samples of E. faecium collected in two major Australian hospitals before and after the phasing in of these disinfectants, from 1997 to 2015. They exposed the different germ batches to a disinfecting solution made out of 23 percent isopropyl alcohol. After 2010, they found, the bacteria became noticeably more likely to survive their alcohol bath, having an average tolerance tenfold-higher than older bacteria. Because disinfectants are usually made with 70 percent alcohol, the researchers next crafted a more real-world experiment. They exposed different strains of… [Read full story]
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