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What if antibiotic resistance is emerging because of our antibacterial household cleaners?

We all hard about antibiotic resistance – news are constantly saying how horrible it is and how it may eventually render some diseases incurable again. Losing antibiotics may do a tremendous damage on people’s lives and it is something we all need to know. But do we know by this is happening? Is it really just overuse of antibiotics?

E. coli may be learning methods to protect itself against antibiotics by resisting common household cleaners. Image credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH via Wikimedia

A new study from the University of Birmingham and Norwich Research Park revealed that there is a link between antibiotic resistance and a common household cleaner. Triclosan which is commonly found in domestic products, is typically harsh to bacteria, but now scientists noticed that bacteria package their DNA inside a cell in such a way that they become resistant to quinolone antibiotics and triclosan. In other words, it is possible that triclosan is helping bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotic, which is a crucial cornerstone in our medicine.

Because of our household cleaners, bacteria are tricked into thinking that it is always under attack and so it speeds up their evolution to resist the attacker. E. coli, for example, can be gaining its resistance to antibiotics just from experience it collected through attacks from triclosan. You may think that this is no big deal and can be fixed relatively quickly, just by switching to new kinds of household cleaners, but the scale at which triclosan is being used is astonishing. In fact, scientists say that this substance in the last 20 years became ubiquitous not only in our houses, but in human tissue as well.

So now what? Just by using our everyday cleaners we are essentially teaching bacteria to attack us more effectively than they do already. But this idea is fairly new and more research needs to be done, both to understand what is happening and find a way to reverse it to a point where humans can be treated effectively again. Co-author of the study Professor Laura Piddock said: “Given the prevalence of triclosan and other antimicrobials in the environment, a greater understanding of the impact they can have on bacteria and how exposure to these antimicrobials may impact the selection and spread of clinically relevant antibiotic resistance is needed”.

And that is basically the bottom line of this research – more research needs to be done. Just by understanding why antibiotic resistance is happening we can find a way to stop it. But the real solution is always going to be inventing more effective medicine.

 

Source: University of Birmingham

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