For a long time, alcohol-based handwashes and sanitizers have been a key way to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, a recent study at the University of Melbourne, Australia has found superbugs that are becoming increasingly resistant to alcohol-based handwashes.
The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was led by Professor Tim Stinear from the Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne.
Enterococcal bacteria are part of the human gut bacteria and don’t usually cause health problems. However, vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) is one set of enterococci that is resistant to the last-line vancomycin antibiotic and is causing healthcare infections.
VRE can colonise the gut and get into the bloodstream, causing health issues such as sepsis and bloodstream infection. People who are most at risk include those undergoing organ transplants, cancer patients or renal patients.
The research team performed tests on 139 different Enterococcus faecium strains between 1997 and 2015, and found that the isolates after 2010 were 10 times more resistant to widely used alcohol-based handwashes.
Hospitals across the globe have implemented a strict rule to wash hands with alcohol-based cleaning liquids every time before and after contact with patients. The World Health Organization strongly suggests to wash hands for 20 to 30 seconds for best results.
Additional work by the research team on examining genetic mutations in alcohol tolerant E. faecium isolates concluded that the bacteria is evolving and becoming more tolerant to alcohol.
The findings of the study suggest that alcohol-based disinfectants cannot be relied upon to get rid of bacteria like VRE, making additional procedures necessary to control such bacteria from spreading in hospital settings. The study notes that bacterial adaptation is also making prevention methods complicated.