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Common Disinfectant Linked to Antibiotic Resistance


A study has found an association between antibiotic resistance and a common disinfectant called triclosan, which is a chemical in certain toothpastes, soaps and cleaning products. The authors believe that triclosan, along with other antimicrobial disinfectants, is contributing to the superbug problem.

In the research at the University of Birmingham and Norwich Research Park in Britain, scientists focused on the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli). They observed that when the microbes mutated to become immune to a class of antibiotics known as quinolones, they also became immune to triclosan through cross-resistance. This phenomenon refers to the process where exposure to one substance can cause microbes to become resistant to a similar substance.

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The discovery led the researchers to deduce that just as quinolones can produce bacterial resistance to triclosan, so also triclosan can produce bacterial resistance to quinolones. “The worry is that this might happen in reverse and triclosan exposure might encourage growth of antibiotic resistant strains,” said corresponding author Dr. Mark Webber, from the Quadram Institute and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham.

“We found this can happen in E. coli. As we run out of effective drugs, understanding how antibiotic resistance can happen and under what conditions is crucial to stopping selection of more resistant bacteria,” added Webber.

Why Triclosan Poses Such a Problem

To comprehend why triclosan is a big problem, one must understand why quinolones are a valuable antibiotic. Quinolones are powerful drugs frequently used to treat pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis and urinary tract infections. The medications eradicate bacteria by targeting a chemical that plays a role in DNA genetic replication. Normally, when a microbe cell divides into two cells, the daughter cells receive a copy of the DNA. Quinolones act by preventing the replication of DNA. Consequently, the cells stop dividing and die. When bacteria become resistant to such antibiotics that are vitally needed for treating serious infections, it puts the public health at risk.

Another reason why triclosan is problematic is because of its widespread use, explains coauthor Professor Laura Piddock, of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham. “The link between quinolone and triclosan resistance is important as triclosan has become ubiquitous in the environment and even human tissues in the last 20 years,“ she 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.”

Other experts have also expressed concerns that the disinfectants contained in antimicrobial products are building up in the environment, which is changing ecosystems and fueling bacterial resistance. Triclosan has been a particular worry, as it has been banned in the E.U. and more recently, in the U.S. for use in hygiene products. However, many other antimicrobial agents continue to be used in a plethora of products.

The study was published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Ditch Household Products with Triclosan

In recent years, numerous products have been labeled “antimicrobial” however, research hasn’t proved them more effective than washing in the traditional way with soap and water. When shopping, look for soaps and toothpastes that don’t list disinfectants on the label. For household cleaning, a mixture of 3% hydrogen peroxide and vinegar is thought to be effective. Coconut oil also has disinfectant properties.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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