How dirty rubber ducks are connected to superbugs: McMaster scientist

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A recent study from Switzerland suggests that rubber duckies are potential havens for disease-carrying bacteria. An expert in infectious disease from McMaster University talks about what happens when you kill the wrong bacteria. 5:25

What takes lots of baths but never gets clean?

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According to scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, ETH Zurich and the University of Illinois bath toys like the rubber duck swimming in your bath water is swimming itself in “potentially pathogenic bacteria.”

The bacteria found included Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that is “often implicated in hospital-acquired infections,” the authors said in a statement.

Lori Burrows is a professor of biochemistry at McMaster University and a researcher at the Michael G. Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research. She spoke with the CBC’s Conrad Collaco about how dangerous it can be to over sanitize your home. 

You can listen to the full conversation by clicking on the image at the top of this page or read an edited and abridged transcript on the page below.

Lori Burrows, professor of biochemistry at McMaster University and a researcher at the Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research 

Lori Burrows is a professor of biochemistry at McMaster University and a researcher at the Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research. (McMaster University)

How dirty are those rubber ducks?

In general, rubber ducks are not that dirty. The study showed that inside the duck you have what we call biofilm. This is the community of bacteria that grow attached to a surface. They produce a slime to protect themselves from predators. 

We’ve heard about the dangers of household germs for some time now. How has science and industry responded and what problems has this caused?

There was a fad for a while to include anti-microbial substances in things like toys, shampoo, toothpaste and in fabrics because the idea was that you wanted to keep bacteria from growing on those things. We have since realized that’s a really terrible idea because the substance impregnated in these things can kill off susceptible bacteria and leave highly resistant bacteria behind. Those bacteria are resistant to anti-microbials as well as to other antibiotics. In essence we are selecting for super bugs which is a really bad idea.

How has the way we have come to treat bacteria affected our health?

There was a case last November of a woman in the U.S. who died because they tried 26 different antibiotics and nothing worked. We are rapidly approaching the end of the useful antibiotic era which is really terrifying.– Lori Burrows, Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research

We are running out of antibiotics that work because of resistant bacteria so I want to point out that when we say antibiotic resistance we don’t mean that the person becomes resistant, it’s the bacteria causing the infection that becomes resistant. Because of our overuse of antibiotics we have left the field open for these resistant bacteria to take over. As we have done this, the pharmaceutical industry has stopped making new antibiotics because it’s not economically feasible for them when they can make something like a cholesterol drug or a diabetes drug that you would take for the rest of your life as opposed to something you would take for a week. 

We’re starting to encounter infections that are resistant to every single antibiotic that we have. That’s pretty terrifying. There was a case last November of a woman in the U.S. who died because they tried 26 different antibiotics and nothing worked. We are rapidly approaching the end of the useful antibiotic era which is really terrifying.

We don’t take antibiotics just for infections we use them for knee surgeries and hip replacements and pregnancy. You name it. I’m sure that you, and your family and even your pet have probably taken an antibiotic. Just imagine if they didn’t work. Before we used antibiotics, which is only in the last century, if you just got a bad cut that got infected that could be the end of you. We don’t want to return to that era.

How do we have to change the way we clean inside our own homes?

Recognize that not all bacteria are bad. You don’t need to go out of your way to kill everything in your house. Keep your kitchen clean. Your kitchen sponge and dishcloth can get really nasty if you don’t clean them regularly. Put them in your dishwasher or washing machine and make sure you clean them with really hot water. Or replace them.

Make sure you don’t cut raw meat on a cutting board where you cut something that you are not going to cook before eating like salad or fresh fruit. There are bacteria on raw meat that can give you food poisoning. Normally those would be killed during cooking but if they get onto things you are not going to cook that could cause a problem.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/mcmaster-infectious-disease-superbugs-1.4603115?cmp=rss