Study: Multidrug-Resistant Bacterium Shows Increasing Tolerance to Handwash Alcohols

By on 9:33 AM

A study indicates that a multidrug-resistant bacterium has shown increasing tolerance to the alcohols used in handwash disinfectants.

Researchers analyzed 139 bacterial samples of Enterococcus faecium from two Australian hospitals over 19 years. They found that after 2010, the samples were 10-fold more tolerant to killing by alcohol than the older isolates, suggesting that E. faecium could be adapting to the alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHR).

The researchers believe their findings, published in Science Translational Medicine, may provide an explanation for an increase in healthcare-associated infections caused by the bacterium. An NPR report notes that enterococcal infections, which are caused by bacteria that affect the digestive tract, bladder, heart and other parts of the body, started increasing globally as hand sanitizers grew in popularity.

As the researchers state, "These findings suggest that bacterial adaptation is complicating infection control recommendations, necessitating additional procedures to prevent E. faecium from spreading in hospital settings."

As with any single or preliminary study, healthcare providers should exercise caution when making decisions based on early findings until strong evidence consistently points to a possible need for change in practice. Whilst this study shows increasing resistance of ABHR by multi-drug resistant bacteria, healthcare providers should continue to strive for prevention of infections through all means possible. Healthcare organizations across the continuum of care should continue to use hand rubs and other alcohol-based disinfectants as part of their infection prevention programs.

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the founder and president of Infection Control Consulting Services LLC (ICCS). Phenelle has more than 30 years' experience providing customized comprehensive infection control and prevention services to healthcare facilities nationwide. Her services focus on assisting hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental office and oral surgery practices, doctor's offices, nursing homes and other organizations with implementing and maintaining an infection control program that: complies with The Joint Commission, AAAHC, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other regulatory agencies; respond to situations of noncompliance; and improve the processes for reducing risk.