Johannesburg – In a laboratory at the University of the Free State, a strain of bacteria shows an adaptation that worries scientists.
The strain of the Serratia marcescens bacteria has become resistant to disinfectants and this could be a sign of things to come where humanity may find itself facing a pandemic worse than Covid-19.
“It is not considered to be a serious human pathogen, but this strain that we have isolated is extremely resistant to disinfectants,” said Professor Robert Bragg, who heads the Veterinary Biotechnology group at the Free State University.
In a world where disinfectants have become one of the frontline weapons in the fight against the spread of Covid-19, scientists like Bragg fear the pandemic is contributing to the evolution of strains of bacteria that are not only resistant to drugs , but also resistant to disinfectants.
“Ten years ago, nobody really thought about disinfectant resistance,” Bragg explained. “Now the whole concept is gaining momentum and becoming a problem. There is growing concern that because of Covid, every man and his dog will spray you with an unknown arbitrary disinfectant every time you enter anywhere. And often the quality control is very limited. “
Bacteria other than S. marcescens have also been shown to be very resistant to several commercially available disinfectants. Fortunately, they are still rare.
“Good quality registered disinfectants are generally good,” Bragg explained. “But there is very little control over what is used.
“If you dilute alcohol-based disinfectants even slightly, they won’t work. Additionally, many hand sanitizers contain very low levels of other sanitizers. It’s like having a really nice chemical weapon and showing them very low concentrations of that weapon and it allows them to develop resistance.
This, coupled with growing resistance to antibiotics in bacteria, could soon eclipse the current Covid-19 pandemic.
“Bacterial infections that are present in hospitals and in agriculture no longer respond to most of the antibiotics currently in use, marking the start of a post-antibiotic era,” said Samantha McCarlie, master’s student and head of laboratory, in a press release.
By 2050, it has been predicted that antimicrobial resistance could cause as many deaths as the cancer it causes today, and could account for between 10 and 50 million deaths per year.
Already, these so-called superbugs have been found in hospitals across the country.
“It’s a scary problem because we’re running out of antibiotics,” Bragg said.
Within the veterinary biotechnology group, Bragg and his team are investigating ways to prevent bacteria from developing resistance to disinfectants.
Part of their research is to understand how S marcescens develops resistance to disinfectants, at the molecular level.
Their research includes taking environmental samples and testing resistance levels to disinfectants.
“Once the mechanisms are identified, possible solutions can be explored,” said McCarlie.
Then they can make recommendations to hospitals and the agricultural industry on how to control these insects.
Undergraduates are also used to evaluate different hand sanitizers as part of their hands-on training.
Vanessa Carter is an antimicrobial advocate and has experienced firsthand the dangers of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
In 2011, she developed a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection, which was linked to a car accident she had seven years earlier.
The infection almost killed her.
“What’s very scary is what I’ve seen and that’s when we talk about these antibacterials in these hand sanitizers, sometimes people can be scared because they say well it’s going to get tough. anyway, so I don’t have to sanitize my hands, “Carter said.
She believes the best way to fight resistance to antibiotics and disinfectants is through education, and that the Covid-19 pandemic has helped.
“We have to realize that we cannot control nature, we have to respect nature instead,” she said.
The Saturday Star