The growth of superbugs could be fuelled by disinfectants designed to keep bacteria out of homes and hospitals, a new study has suggested.
Scientists from the National University of Ireland in Galway found that exposing infectious bacteria to increasing amounts of disinfectant turns the bugs into hardy survivors.
The bugs develop a resistance to an antibiotic used to treat the infections and become immune to cleansing chemicals.
The findings could have important implications for controlling the spread of hospital infections, the researchers believe. The study, reported in the January issue of the journal Microbiology, showed that exposure to small non-lethal amounts of disinfectant encourages the survival of resistant bacteria.
Scientists in the Republic of Ireland carried out the tests on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes a wide range of infections in people with weak immune systems.
Sufferers of diseases such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes are also vulnerable to the bug, which is responsible for many hospital-acquired infections.
The scientists, led by Dr Gerard Fleming, found that the bacteria improved their ability to pump antimicrobial agents out of their cells when exposed to disinfectant.