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Sanitizer and ‘superbugs:’ Should you be worried about using disinfectants?

An epidemiologist answers questions about COVID-19 and superbug concerns

Macomb County couple spends lockdown making hand sanitizer for first responders
Macomb County couple spends lockdown making hand sanitizer for first responders

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you might recall health officials warning about something called a “superbug” and its creation due to hand sanitizer usage.

Basically researchers warned that by overusing disinfecting products, you could inadvertently create a “superbug’” that was resistant to products like hand sanitizers and antibacterial sprays.

Due to the boom in sanitizer usage during the coronavirus pandemic, does that leave us at risk of creating bacterium that is able to resist cleaning methods?

Finally some good news on this health matter: Experts say not to worry.

Charles Letizia, MPH, is an epidemiologist working to combat COVID-19 in Central Florida. He said that if you’re working to keep healthy, you shouldn’t worry yourself with the thought of “superbugs.”

“A ‘superbug’ is a microbe that is resistant to multiple antimicrobial drugs, making those treatments ineffective,” Letizia said. “Antimicrobial resistance is a growing concern that has been driven by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. It is important to take antibiotics exactly how your healthcare provider instructs. Hand sanitizer works to kill germs in a different manner than antibiotics and is not a primary concern for the development of antimicrobial resistance.”

In 2018, Australian researchers conducted a study that seemed to indicate some “superbugs” with a preexisting resistance to antibiotics may have also developed a resistance to alcohol-based disinfectant solutions. Similar studies on different types of bacteria have been conducted since then, but the general consensus among the scientific community is that sanitizers and alcohol-based disinfectants do a lot more good than harm.

“Hand hygiene and environmental disinfection are important ways of combating the COVID-19 pandemic, but are also important for combating other infectious diseases as well,” Letizia said. “People should not worry about hand sanitizer creating a superbug. In fact, hand hygiene is the best way to combat transmission of superbugs, especially in healthcare settings. Hand hygiene is always important, but the COVID-19 pandemic highlights its importance.”


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