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Disinfectants could be helping bacteria to become resistant

Topic: Disinfectants could be helping bacteria to become resistant

I have been involved in research on the control of animal diseases for many years now. The control of any disease in a population (human or animal) is based on three main pillars. These are 1) vaccinations and vaccines, 2) treatment options (such as antibiotics for bacterial diseases), and 3) biosecurity.

With the ever-increasing problems with bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, it is becoming essential to look at alternatives to antibiotics before we have no antibiotics left. The most likely solution to the antibiotic resistance crisis (particularly in animal production) would be improved biosecurity.

The current COVID-19 crisis has very much heightened people’s awareness and perception of biosecurity. Previously (10 to 15 years ago), the perception was that there is no resistance to disinfectants. However, this has since changed dramatically and a growing awareness and research field is looking at the development of resistance to disinfectants.

It has been discovered that many of the mechanisms that bacteria use to become resistant to antibiotics can also make them resistant to disinfectants. I have also been involved in the evaluation of the efficacy of antimicrobials for many years, so, investigating the development of resistance in bacteria to disinfectants was the next logical step.

The world is very rapidly running out of antibiotics. Most people alive today have grown up in the era of antibiotics where bacterial infections are not really regarded as a major health risk and the focus is now firmly on viral diseases. There is one fundamental difference between bacteria and viruses in terms of how they replicate.

Animal viruses (this includes humans) require a living cell to replicate in. The replication rate of most animal viruses is measured in days. This slow replication rate allows the immune system of the host to develop and control the viral infection.

Bacteria on the other hand do not require a host to replicate and their doubling time is recorded in minutes. A common well-known bacterium such as Escherichia coli has a doubling time of around 20 min under ideal conditions. In other words, it only takes just 20 minutes for a population of E. coli to go from 1 million to 2 million and another 20 mins to reach 4 million, and so on.

Without antibiotics, we will be forced to take bacterial diseases a lot more seriously. For example, in the pre-antibiotic era, It was estimated that one in three women who gave birth would become infected with a bacterium during the process and would die.

The main factor which has led to the pending crisis of antibiotic resistance is the misuse of antibiotics by man. There was a lot of discussion on who is to blame. The human side like to blame the massive use of antibiotics in animal production. Yes, this has been a major issue. It has been estimated that up to 70% of all antibiotics produced have been used in animal production mostly to improve production.

However, humans are not without blame. In the past, you would not leave the doctors consulting room without antibiotics, irrespective of if they were needed or not. Each person who has not finished their course of antibiotics also has a share in the cause of the problem. The time to blame is past – we need to look for solutions.

Topic Discussed: Disinfectants could be helping bacteria to become resistant

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