Increasing tolerance of hospital Enterococcus faecium to handwash alcohols

Leslie Hanson
August 7, 2018

Such measures should curb the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Enterococcus faecium.

VRE bugs, which can cause urinary tract, wound and bloodstream infections, can be hard to treat, mainly because they are resistant to several classes of antibiotics.

In order to find out what exactly lies behind Enterococcus faecium's high survival rate, the researchers studied the samples taken from patients infected in two hospitals in Australia between 1997 and 2015.

As NPR's Schrieber points out, the bacteria don't yet seem to be fully resistant to hand sanitizers.

In the meantime, no one is suggesting hospitals stop using hand sanitizers; rather, that other cleansing methods are needed, said Stinear.

AT hospitals around the world, staff dutifully slather on hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of infections. A DNA analysis of the bacterial samples showed that the samples with more tolerance to hand sanitizers had several mutations in genes involved in metabolism.


During the study time period, strains of E. faecium developed an improved ability to withstand alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

"It shows that it is not just a laboratory phenomenon that we are measuring here; we are showing this characteristic [of the bacteria] transfers into being able to escape a standard infection control procedure", Timothy Stinear, one of the authors of the new paper, tells Nicola Davis of the Guardian.

Hand rubs and washes that contain disinfectants based on isopropyl or ethyl alcohol are widely used around the world, and have cut down dramatically on one type of superbug, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It is possible that the bacteria are simply becoming resistant to hand sanitizers, but something more complex could be at work.

The scientists then spread the bacteria onto the floors of mouse cages and found that the alcohol-resistant samples were more likely to get into, and grow in the guts of the mice after the cages were cleaned with isopropyl alcohol wipes.

Being "tolerant" means the bacteria can survive exposure to alcohol longer.

While worth further study, the findings should not prompt dramatic changes in the use of alcohol-based disinfectants, said Paul Johnson, Ph.D., FRACP, a professor of infectious diseases at Austin Health in Australia who co-led the study.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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