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Overuse of Disinfectants May Make Bacteria Stronger

It's OK to use disinfectants. Just be sure to use them at full strength and don't wash them off too soon.


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Robert Rister
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It's OK to use disinfectants. Just be sure to use them at full strength and don't wash them off too soon.
 
Incorrect use of disinfectants could cause some strains of bacteria to become disinfectant-resistant in the same way they are already becoming antibiotic-resistant, new research suggests.
 
It is a well-known fact that if bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic too often, they may "learn" how to resist it. All it takes is a single bacterium that is created with a lucky mutation that makes it resistant to the drug intended to kill it. This bacterium not only passes that mutation down to future generations, it can also exchange the antibiotic resistance gene with surrounding germs and make them antibiotic-resistant, too.
 
Scientists at the National University of Ireland in Galway wanted to see whether a disinfectant might have a similar effect in a bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacterium attacks people with damaged immune systems and is a major cause of nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections. The bacterium can cause both skin infections and pneumonia. In rare cases, it can even cause deadly sepsis.
 
Most hospitals try to prevent these infections from ever happening by cleaning all surfaces in a room with a disinfectant called benzalkonium chloride. It is strong enough to kill bacteria, but gentle enough that it can be used in face creams. The tremendous advantage of this chemical is that it kills germs, but it does not damage skin.
 
Publishing in the January 2010 edition of the journal Microbiology, the researchers at the National University of Ireland added tiny amounts of the disinfectant to a solution that included the Pseudomonas bacteria. The amount of disinfectant they added to the solution was intentionally not enough to kill the bacteria, just as sometimes the cleaning process is not enough to kill bacteria on various surfaces in operating rooms and patient rooms in hospitals.
 
The researchers noted that the bacteria mutated. They did not become resistant to the disinfectant. Instead, they became resistant to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (Cipro), which is one of the most important antibiotics for serious, systemic, life-threatening bacterial infections of various kinds. It is also the antibiotic used to treat anthrax.
 
Dr. Fleming said that this research points out two important principles for using disinfectants:
 
1. Disinfectants should never be diluted to save money. Disinfectants only work at the concentration stated on the label. If they are diluted to a level allowing bacteria to survive and evolve, resistance can build up.

2. It's also important to give the disinfectant time to work. It is never a good idea to get in a hurry and wash off the disinfectant formula before the time stated on the label.

Antibiotics are our second line of defense against bacterial infections. It is much better never to get the infection at all. That is why it is keenly important to your good health that you make sure you don't cut corners with cleaning and disinfectants. Always use the full strength required for the full time recommended to clean all home surfaces, especially when someone in your household has influenza or a contagious infection.

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External Sources:
Mc Cay PH, Ocampo-Sosa AA, Fleming GT. Effect of subinhibitory concentrations of benzalkonium chloride on the competitiveness of Pseudomonas aeruginosa grown in continuous culture. Microbiology. 2010 Jan;156(Pt 1):30-8. Epub 2009 Oct 8.
  
This Article appears in:
General Health
  
Keywords:
bacteria, germ, antibiotic resistant, Pseudomonas, disinfectant, pneumonia
           
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