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Evidence that some cleaning agents may actually help bacteria to survive in hospitals

Society For General Microbiology : 18 June, 2006  (Company News)
Elderly patients, who are most at risk from hospital bugs which cause diarrhoea, could be having their health endangered by the widespread use of some disinfectants, according to scientists presenting research at the Society for General Microbiology's 158th Meeting at the University of Warwick, UK.
Researchers from Leeds General Infirmary and the University of Leeds found that some strains of Clostridium difficile, which is the major cause of hospital-acquired diarrhoea in the UK and worldwide, can transform into a more resistant spore form when exposed to some hospital cleaning agents.

'We are trying to understand how some strains of Clostridium difficile can cause such virulent outbreaks in hospitals,' says Prof Mark Wilcox who led the research. 'These bacteria can form spores which survive for months or even years in the environment, in spite of hospital cleaning regimens'.

The scientists tested UK and US strains of bacteria responsible for major hospital outbreaks, and three less dangerous strains of Clostridium difficile, with five different hospital cleaning agents.

The results showed that the strains causing hospital outbreaks produced far more spores than non-outbreak strains. Furthermore, all the strains produced more spores when exposed to some but not all cleaning agents.

'This means that the choice of cleaning agent may have a substantial effect on the persistence of Clostridium difficile, and so possibly on a hospital's ability to control infections caused by this important pathogen,' says Prof Wilcox. 'We need to find the best way to clean contaminated hospitals'.

Spores are highly resistant forms of bacteria that are impervious to many disinfectants and antibiotics. The Leeds work shows that the more dangerous outbreak-causing strains produce more spores, and so may be able to survive within hospitals for longer periods, contaminate large areas and maintain a cycle of re-infection.

'We have shown that some commonly used hospital cleaning and disinfection agents not only fail to kill the bacteria, they actually promote spore formation,' says Prof Wilcox. 'Our research, which was a collaboration between Leeds University, the NHS and an American hospital, provides important information which can be used by hospitals to better design their cleaning and infection control regimens. We hope that these approaches will help decrease the number of cases of Clostridium difficile infection in hospitals'.
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