Household chemicals contribute to the appearance of superbugs in the sewer

(ORDO NEWS) — A common household chemical found in many cleaning products may be a major driver of superbugs that antibiotics don’t kill, according to new research.

The University of Toronto study looked at triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal agent often included in household items such as shampoos, soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, and cleaning products, and its role in antibiotic resistance.

Wastewater treatment plants are huge whirlpools of microbes and antibacterial chemicals that are the perfect place for antibiotic resistance to develop.

A diverse array of antibiotics leach into drains, along with many different strains of bacteria that accumulate in sewage treatment plants and mix.

The researchers headed into the sewers of Ontario and analyzed the sludge containing this nasty mixture of microbes and antimicrobial chemicals.

They found that triclosan was the predominant antibacterial compound affecting E. coli and likely caused antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria.

“Because there are so many different antibiotics in sewage sludge, we were surprised to find that much of the sludge’s antibacterial activity could be directly related to triclosan alone,” says study lead author Holly Barrett.

Scientists explain that triclosan is still used in thousands of different household and cosmetic products, as well as in medical institutions.

And while there are several regulations limiting the maximum allowable amount of triclosan in consumer products, even very low levels of the chemical can lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria over time.

Today, antibiotic resistance is considered one of the biggest threats to global health. Around the world, infections that were once easy to treat, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and salmonellosis, are becoming more difficult to treat as the antibiotics used become less effective.

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs have recently become one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and there is little sign that this trend will stop.


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