Bacteria- and virus-killing breakthrough may help fight against superbugs

A new bacteria- and virus-killing plastic coating could help tackle the problem of hospital superbugs. This is the promise of a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham, who made the wonder material by harnessing a common disinfectant. In tests, the coating was found to be effective in killing the microbes responsible for various infections and illnesses — including both COVID-19 and MRSA.

The danger posed by hospital-acquired infections has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic — during which it has been estimated that one-in-five people treated for severe Covid in hospital contracted such while already a patient.

Even before the pandemic, however, hospital-acquired infections were a major problem — with 4.7 percent of all inpatients contracting infections during their stay and a horrific 22,80 patients dying as a result.

The most common pathogens behind infections acquired in hospital settings are Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile — with many outbreaks the result of strains that are resistant to antimicrobial drugs.

Furthermore, some microbial species are able to survive and remain infectious on surfaces in hospital settings for several months, even in the face of aggressive cleaning practices.

Paper author and pharmaceutical scientist Professor Felicity de Cogan of the University of Nottingham: “Plastic is such a widely used material that we know can harbour infectious microorganisms.”

In hospital settings, plastic is used in everything from intravenous bags and implantable devices to hospital beds and toilet seats.

Given this, she explained, “we wanted to investigate a way to use this material to destroy the bacteria.

“We achieved this by bonding a disinfectant with the polymer to create a new coating material and discovered that not only does it act very quickly — killing bacteria within 30 minutes — it also doesn’t spread into the environment or leach from the surface when touched.

“Making plastic items using this material could really help tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance and reduce hospital-acquired infections.”

The disinfectant the team used was chlorhexidine — which is also used by dentists as an antiseptic to treat mouth infections, and for pre-surgical cleaning.

They applied the chlorhexidine coating to a polymer known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene — and then studied the material at a molecular level using an imaging technique known as Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry.

This analysis revealed that the material is capable of rapidly killing microbes on its surface. Including chlorhexidine-resistant strains of bacteria.

Furthermore, the coating also proved effective against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — with no virions found on the surface after 30 minutes of exposure.

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Dr de Cogan added: “Research has shown that contaminated surfaces, including plastic surfaces, can act as a reservoir of antimicrobial resistance genes, encouraging the spread of antimicrobial resistance across bacterial species through horizontal gene transfer despite deep cleaning practices.

“It is paramount that new technologies are developed to prevent the spread of pathogenic microorganisms to vulnerable patients and address the ever-increasing threat of antimicrobial resistance.

“This research offers an effective way to do this and the material could be added to plastic materials during manufacture. It could also potentially be used as a spray.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nano Select.

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