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Hand sanitiser use in pandemic could trigger widespread resistance to disinfectants

 Everyone has become used to using hand sanitiser during the pandemic (Photo: Shutterstock)

Hand sanitiser use during the pandemic could trigger widespread resistance to disinfectants, scientists have warned.

Using hand washes to kill coronavirus is currently vital to saving lives but experts believe it could be contributing to future problems.

Antimicrobial resistance has been identified as one of the greatest risks to humanity which could make routine operations fatal.

The focus has so far been overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals.

A South African research group is identifying which microorganisms are becoming resistant to that other antimicrobial - disinfectants.

Researcher Samantha McCarlie, of the University of the Free State (UFS), said: “Antibiotic resistance is becoming one of the biggest life-threatening challenges of our time – even overshadowing the current pandemic – as multidrug-resistant infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat.

“Bacterial infections that are present in hospitals and agriculture are becoming unresponsive to many of the antibiotics currently in use, marking the start of a post-antibiotic era.

 However, microorganisms are becoming resistant to disinfectants (Photo: Shutterstock)

“Currently, the best viable protection we have against bacteria is biosecurity and disinfectants.

“Biosecurity relies heavily on the use of disinfectants to control bacterial growth.

“This makes it only more troubling that disinfectant resistance is emerging at an alarming rate.”

It is predicted that by 2050, antimicrobial resistance could lead to as many deaths as cancer causes today and could account for between 10 million and 50 million deaths per year.

Researchers believe excessive use of poor-quality disinfectants could result in bacteria developing resistance to these disinfectants.

McCarlie added: “Resistance to antimicrobials such as antibiotics and disinfectants is a natural occurrence.

We did not invent antibiotics, we discovered them, and so bacterial resistance has been around for as long as antibiotics have – as a survival strategy.

“However the widespread use of antimicrobials creates selective pressure for those microorganisms that are resistant to the antimicrobial being used.

“Over-prescribing and improper use of antibiotics has led to widespread antibiotic resistance. We expect the same trend to be seen with disinfectant resistance in the near future.”

She added: “It is therefore very important that reliable high-quality disinfectants are used as hand sanitisers during this COVID-19 crisis, otherwise we will be replacing one crisis with a potentially even bigger crisis.”

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