A number of bacteria species are already resistant to a range of antibiotics; the infections they cause are difficult to treat, posing an ever-increasing threat to patients and staff.
Because of the growing numbers of so-called superbugs, hospitals have introduced more stringent cleaning routines.
Part of the regimen involves alcohol-based disinfectants, such as hand rubs, positioned in and around hospital wards. Since their introduction, there has been a significant reduction in the number of hospital-based infections.
Containing 70 percent isopropyl or ethyl alcohol, alcohol-based hand rubs kill bacteria quickly and effectively.
Over recent years, researchers have noted a steady rise in the number of serious infections caused by one particular drug-resistant bacterium — Enterococcus faecium. Despite the wide use of alcohol-based disinfectants, E. faecium is now a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections.
Dr. Sacha Pidot and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne in Australia set out to understand whether this increased infection rate might be because the bacterium is growing resistant to alcohol. Their findings were published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.