Hand sanitizer dispensers are found everywhere these days: from the mall, to the grocery store, to indoor playgrounds, and more. They are an easy way to clean hands up, when you aren’t near a bathroom, and wash away those germs in areas where bacteria can be everywhere. They are also thought to be a great way to ward off germs and sickness; however, a new study reveals that when it comes to hospitals, there is a bacteria species that is growing tolerant of the alcohol within these hand sanitizers.
Worldwide, hospitals tend to use ethyl or isopropyl disinfectants, which are alcohol based (hand rubs) to help patients avoid getting sick from the various germs around.
CNN reported that the Enterococcus faecium (E. faecium) bacterium lies in our stomachs; however, if one comes across it while in a hospital it can cause a slew of infections that affect the blood system, urinary tract, skin, or abdomen. This germ is part of the Enterococci family, ranking as the fourth or fifth top cause of sepsis, a blood stream condition that is life threatening and can be found in Europe and North America.
While a lot of infections acquired in hospitals have lowered or leveled off in Australia due to hygiene routines that depend on these hand sanitizers, as per the study, E. faecium infections have been on the rise over time.
The study team reviewed 139 bacterial samples taken from two hospitals in Melbourne. These samples had been collected from 1996-2015. The team analyzed how these samples survived after being exposed to isopropyl alcohol that was diluted.
What was revealed was the samples taken after 2009 had increased tolerance to the alcohol, for the most part, then those taken prior to 2004. After some mice experiments and more review, the team also discovered that these bacterial samples that seemed to tolerate the alcohol developed multiple genetic mutations around metabolism that made them stronger to live within the stomach gut.
While the study results seem to point to the idea that the bacteria can adapt to these alcohol-based sanitizers, it is believed that more research needs to be done; so, don’t throw out those hand sanitizers yet, or stop using them for that matter!