Disinfectant controversy: Research links overuse to MRSA

Aberdeen University study shows areas with a high concentration of cleaning agents can cause disinfectant resistance in bacteria leading to antibiotic resistance

Aberdeen University has been at the centre of a debate regarding the use of disinfectants in hospitals, publishing a study that presents the troubling idea that in adapting resistance to disinfectant, bacteria can also gain resistance to antibiotics.

The research showed that in environments with a high concentration of disinfectant, even completely benign skin bacteria can become pathogenic and multidrug resistant. These bacteria can then transfer genes to other bacteria and potentially create MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

The study used Staphylococcus epidermidis as the subject, closely related to Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that becomes MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). No studies had been done on epidermidis before, despite the ability of these baceria to transfer genes.

On transferring the developed resistant genes from epidermidis to aureus, MRSA is created even in highly disinfected areas.

For cleanrooms, disinfectant are a go-to product for keeping cleanroom clean. Correlation between resistance to disinfectants and resistance to several antibiotics could spell disaster for their end products, especially in the food and pharmaceuticals industry.

Dr Karolin Hijazi from the University’s Institute of Dentistry worked with Professor Ian Gould, a consultant microbiologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, to co-author this paper. Both experts expressed concern for this as a public health issue, calling for regulations along the same vein as those for antibiotics.

Giving her advice on the topic, Hijazi said: “Our results suggest that we need to change the way we think about using disinfectants, particularly in the hospital setting.”

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