Sanitizer could spur antibiotic resistance

by | Feb 24, 2014 | Life

Karina Nowysz
Life Reporter

A compound in hand sanitizers may contribute to antibiotic resistance, says the Canadian Medical Association.

The association is encouraging the federal government to restrict the sale of triclosan in consumer products for general use.

Triclosan is an ingredient found in many consumer products such as, hand sanitizers, cosmetics and toothpaste.

The extensive use of triclosan in a non-therapeutic way (not to treat a disease), is a public health threat, reveals Dr. Gerry Wright, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University.

“Triclosan blocks a bacteria’s ability to make fatty acids,” said Wright. “It has a specific effect, which makes it relatively easy to get resistance and become a superbug.”

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are just as effective as triclosan, he said.

“They don’t have a specific molecular target so it’s hard to get resistance,” said WrightL.

Although alcohol based hand sanitizers are effective it is better to use them in conjunction with washing hands.

A major problem with hand sanitizers is not all bacteria can be killed, such as C. difficile, said Dr. Ronald Stewart, a bioscience professor at Humber.

“This is one case where washing your hands is better,” said Stewart.

The overall resistance to antibiotics is a growing problem.

 When bacteria get exposed to antibiotics, it creates this evolutionary process to adapt or die, said Wright.

Using antibiotics to treat viral infections like a cold or flu only contributes to the problem.

 “Great majority of upper respiratory tract infections this time of year are viral so antibiotics don’t do anything against that,” said Stewart.

 “An antibiotic might have a placebo effect where you think it is working and you may feel better but in reality it does not decrease the duration of the infection at all,” said Stewart.

The bottom line is that antibiotics do nothing to help viral infections and it only creates ­­antibiotic resistance, he said.

“If you do not obliterate the colony then you simply leave the strong ones alive and then they will flourish after you stop taking the antibiotic,” said Stewart.

The misuse of prescribed antibiotics contributes to the growing problem of resistance.

“As far as prescription medication, I can tell you that we have strict guidelines in regards to who receives the antibiotics,” said Catherine McKee, a registered co-ordinating nurse at Humber. “Clients often come to the Health Centre asking for antibiotics when it is not necessary.”

Antibiotic resistance is not a campus but a global issue, said McKee. ­­­­