Chlorine disinfectants ineffective in killing hospital superbugs: Study

Writing in the journal Microbiology, the researchers said susceptible people working and being treated in clinical settings might be unknowingly placed at risk of contracting the superbug.

London: One of the primary chlorine disinfectants currently being used to clean hospital scrubs and surfaces does not kill off the most common cause of antibiotic-associated sickness in health care settings globally, according to a new study, led by one of an Indian-origin researchers.

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Research by the University of Plymouth in the UK has shown that spores of Clostridioides difficile, commonly known as C. diff, are completely unaffected despite being treated with high concentrations of bleach used in many hospitals.

In fact, the chlorine chemicals are no more effective at damaging the spores when used as a surface disinfectant — than using water with no additives.

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C. diff is a microbe that causes diarrhoea, colitis and other bowel complications and is known to infect millions of people all over the world each year.

“With incidence of antimicrobial resistance on the rise, the threat posed by superbugs to human health is increasing. But far from demonstrating that our clinical environments are clean and safe for staff and patients, this study highlights the ability of C. diff spores to tolerate disinfection at in-use and recommended active chlorine concentrations,” said Tina Joshi, Associate Professor in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Plymouth.

“It shows we need disinfectants, and guidelines, that are fit for purpose and work in line with bacterial evolution, and the research should have a significant impact on current disinfection protocols in the medical field globally,” she added.

The new study examined spore response of three different strains of C. diff to three clinical in-use concentrations of sodium hypochlorite. The spores were then spiked onto surgical scrubs and patient gowns, examined using scanning electron microscopes to establish if there were any morphological changes to the outer spore coat.

Writing in the journal Microbiology, the researchers said susceptible people working and being treated in clinical settings might be unknowingly placed at risk of contracting the superbug.

As a result, and with incidence of biocide overuse only serving to fuel rises in antimicrobial resistance AMR worldwide, they have called for urgent research to find alternative strategies to disinfect C. diff spores in order to break the chain of transmission in clinical environments.

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