In the early 2000s, Australia began to systematically use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in its hospitals.
In particular, the resistance acquired by the bacteria Enterococcus faecium, which may explain the increase in the number of these microorganisms in the hospital premises.
Some hospital superbugs are growing increasingly tolerant to alcohol-based disinfectants found in hand washes and sanitisers, allowing increasing infections to take hold, an Australian study warned Wednesday.
Enterococci bacteria, usually harmless inhabitants of the human gut, might sometimes become responsible for infections in hospitals.
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. A team of researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne studied Enterococcus faecium, a strain of bacteria that's a common nuisance in hospitals, but not particularly deadly. The results clearly show that bacteria gathered before 2004 had much lower survival rate than those collected between 2009 and 2015. According to Melody Schreiber of NPR, nations around the world have seen increasing rates of enterococcal infections, despite greater use of hand sanitizers. They then took hospital-grade disinfectant wipes, wiped down the cages, and let mice crawl around inside for an hour.
Further research helped to find mutations in genes involved in carbohydrate uptake and metabolism.
"Our findings do not signal the end of hand sanitisers, but indicate you can not rely exclusively on alcohol-based disinfectants to control E faecium in the hospital/health care setting". She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. 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 researchers - led by infectious disease expert Paul Johnson and microbiologist Timothy Stinear of the University of Melbourne - said hospitals shouldn't stop using hand sanitizer based on these findings.