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Study bolsters concerns that disinfectants create superbugs

Disinfectants, be they hand sanitizers or industrial-strength cleaners, present a hospital's first blockade against bacterial infection. But this same weapon may be helping create stronger microbial enemies: superbugs that are resistant to disinfectants and commonly used antibiotics, scientists report in the January issue of the journal Microbiology.

Researchers from the National University of Ireland in Galway studied lab cultures of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which lives in soil and water. The bacterium, which can colonize catheters and other medical equipment, accounts for 8% of infections acquired in hospitals, according to a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though it does not seriously hurt healthy people (it's been implicated in such quaintly named afflictions as "hot tub itch" and "swimmer's ear"), the bacterium can infect the lungs, joints, burn wounds, urinary tracts and blood of people whose defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chemotherapy, diabetes, cystic fibrosis or AIDS.

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