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We are losing the war against superbugs as they become resistant to hand sanitisers

Jamie Seidel, August 6, 2018 8:30PM Kids News

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Washing your hands can help prevent the spread of bacteria. Source: iStock / Getty Images media_cameraWashing your hands can help prevent the spread of bacteria. Source: iStock / Getty Images


Reading level: orange

We are slowly losing the war against bacteria*.

Not only are our strongest antibiotics* becoming less and less able to fight the superbugs, now bacteria is finding a way to survive alcohol-based hand disinfectants*.

And that is bad news for hospitals already struggling against superbugs.

The Australian-based study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, began after doctors noticed a worrying pattern — the rate of infection of some bacteria already able to fight drugs was rising in hospitals.

This didn’t make sense.

media_cameraPetri dish showing bacteria growth. Picture: iStock

In 2002, it became normal in Australian hospitals for alcohol-based hand sanitisers to be made available to doctors, nurses, staff — and even visitors.

Alcohol is pretty harsh stuff to bacteria. It quickly blasts into cells causing them to burst. Many experts thought bacteria would not find it easy to fight off the alcohol.

The study found some superbugs were still being knocked back by the alcohol but others continued to increase their rate of infections.

So the team, led by Paul Johnson and microbiologist* Timothy Stinear of the University of Melbourne, compared samples of different superbugs collected between 1997 and 2015.

When the bacteria were given a bath of strong alcohol, the scientists noticed a point of change.

From 2010 onwards, some bugs became much more likely to survive the alcohol. Its tolerance*, in fact, was some 10 times higher than the older bacteria.

So, in the war against superbugs, medicine is experiencing another setback and this finding

may, in part, explain the increase in one particular infection now widely reported in hospitals in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia.

But the superbugs can’t claim victory just yet with doctors saying hand sanitiser in hospitals still works well for most bugs.

“Alcohol-based disinfectants remain an important general primary defence against cross-transmission* of most microbial* and some viral pathogens* in health care settings,” the study found.

Researchers say those who wash their hands properly and use hand sanitisers correctly are more likely to avoid infections.

Bottle of shower gel in woman's hands media_cameraHand sanitiser still kills many superbugs.


Make sure the sanitiser is not diluted*.
Rub your hands thoroughly until fully dry.

6676 media_cameraA little boy washing his hands at home.


(Source: Australia Wide First Aid)

— Don’t Rush: A quick splash under cold running water, isn’t enough. To get germ free, you will need to do a thorough wash under clean, running water, lasting 40 to 60 seconds (including the drying) with lots of rubbing together of the hands. Don’t know how to time 40 to 60 seconds? Try singing the Happy Birthday song twice.

— Soap Up: If there is soap nearby, use it. Any germs on your hands will be attached to the layer of acidic fats, oils and cellular debris on the surface of the skin. Using soap will help the germs become free.

— Drying: Hand dryers work well, but paper towel or cloth towels are best used at home or work. Drying your hands is just as important as washing.


bacteria :a large group of microorganisms with cell walls, some of which can cause disease

antibiotics: a medicine that stops the growth of or destroys microorganisms

disinfectants: chemicals that kills bacteria

microbiologist: an expert in the science of microbiology

tolerance: ability to survive or put up with something

cross-transmission: to infect something else and spread

microbial: relating to or characteristics of a microorganism

pathogens: bacteria or a virus that can cause disease

diluted: watered down or reduced in strength



1. What is a superbug?

2. What practice became normal in Australian hospitals in 2002?

3. What does hand sanitiser contain to help it kill bacteria?

4. How long should you wash your hands for?

5. Does soap help fight germs or not? Why?


1. Clean your hands

Create a poster for display about cleaning your hands. Your poster should include:

A statement about why cleaning you hands is important

Simple instructions on the best ways to clean your hands

A diagram (or diagrams) to go with your instructions

Extension: Create a song or rhyme about hand washing that will help people remember its importance and how to do it correctly.

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science, Health and Physical Education


With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text? Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb- make sure it still makes the context it was taken from.

Try and see if you can replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you and your friends always wash your hands properly? Why or why not?

No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking.

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