Antimicrobial Tied to Super Bugs Found in Dust

(CN) – A research team has found a chemical associated with antibiotic-resistant infections in an unlikely substance: dust.

With about 25,000 deaths annually in the United States from infections that are resistant to antibiotics, public health officials vigilantly track strains and urge people to halt the use of antimicrobial products lead to the formation of super bugs.

A new study published today in the journal mSystems looked at levels of the antimicrobial chemical triclosan found in dust samples collected from athletic facilities.

“Dust is the final resting place of everything that’s been circulating in the air, so it can give us information about air quality,” said the study’s leader Erica Hartmann from Northwestern University. 

The researchers specifically picked athletic facilities because they are places where people make close physical contact with their surroundings and where antimicrobial wipes are regularly used.

These included gyms, public recreation facilities, and yoga and martial arts studios. The team quantified the samples by a number of factors, including how much the facilities are used and numbers of moisture sources.

Triclosan was commonly added to cleaning products and hand soap until recently, when the discovery of harmful side effects and campaigns by public health groups led to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban. The chemical was found to affect human hormones and was linked to risks of food allergies, among other issues.

But many products like yoga mats and textiles still contain triclosan. Hartmann explained the chemicals allowed in those types of products are governed by a different agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The researchers found in dust samples with higher concentrations of triclosan, there were more genetic markers that indicated resistance to antibiotics.

Their findings indicate “an emergent need to identify the most important indoor, outdoor, and host-associated sources of antimicrobial chemical-resistome interactions,” they concluded.

“These findings suggest that humans may be influencing the microbial species and genes that are found indoors through the addition and removal of particular antimicrobial chemicals.”

Hartmann, an assistant professor of environmental engineering, believes people should stop using antimicrobial products, which would lead to fewer drug-resistant infections.

“The vast majority of microbes around us aren’t bad and may even be good,” she said. “Wipe down gym equipment with a towel. Wash your hands with plain soap and water. There is absolutely no reason to use antibacterial cleansers and hand soaps.”

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