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Antibiotic-resistant organisms detected in everyday dust

Researchers from Northwestern University have found an antimicrobial chemical in common dust spores. It’s called triclosan and is linked to changes in the dust’s genetic makeup. This means the organisms living within the dust spore could cause an antibiotic-resistant infection.

“There is this conventional wisdom that says everything that’s in dust is dead, but that’s not actually the case. There are things living in there,” lead author Erica Hartmann, an assistant professor of environmental engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, said. “Dust is the final resting place of everything that’s been circulating in the air, so it can give us information about air quality.”

The study, completed in partnership with the Biology and the Built Environmental Center at the University of Oregon, and published December 11th in mSystems, was a thorough examination of the bacteria located in dust samples from 42 athletic facilities within the Pacific Northwest.

Researchers found that dust with higher levels of triclosan often had more genetic markers that indicated antibiotic resistance.

“Those genes do not code for resistance to triclosan,” Hartmann explained. “They code for resistance to medically relevant antibiotic drugs.”

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) banned triclosan in 2016 after realizing it had negative side effects, including one that could damage the human endocrine system. However, prior to 2016, the chemical was often used in antibacterial hand soaps and cleaning products. Unfortunately, because certain products fit within EPA guidelines rather than those of the FDA, triclosan is still often present in toothpastes, antimicrobial gym equipment, and some textiles.

Besides triclosan, other antimicrobial chemicals are still present on the market and in our cleaning products. Hartmann and her team will now study these other chemicals to see if they similarly affect dust.

As scary as antibiotic-resistant dust is, Hartmann believes there is an easy way to thwart potential antibiotic-resistant illnesses — we should simply stop using antimicrobial products.

“The vast majority of microbes around us aren’t bad and may even be good,” she concluded. “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.”

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash

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