Fighting MRSA

Hospital cleaners may one day use ionic liquids to clean wards. Scientists at the Queen’s University, Belfast have come up with a new way to kill off bacteria, including the hospital superbug MRSA. In this era of finite resources in our health service, any development which declares war on the superbugs, is to be welcomed.

hospital-guide1Many types of bacteria, such as MRSA, exist in colonies that stick to the surfaces of materials. The colonies often form coatings, known as ‘biofilms’, that protect them from antiseptics, disinfectants, and antibiotics. Ionic liquids are up to 250 times better at killing ‘difficult to treat’ biofilms. Ionic liquids are essentially salts which are liquid at around room temperature. The liquid can be sprayed onto a surface where it will kill any existing bacteria. Significantly, the liquid doesn’t evaporate so once it is on a surface, no bacteria can withstand the treatment. It continues to destroy any bacteria that arrive subsequently provided the ionic liquid has not been wiped off. The liquid has low toxicity but has not yet been tested for use in human treatments.

The development was carried out by eight researchers from the Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) centre, supported by a grant from Invest NI. The research has been published in the journal, Green Chemistry. The Queen’s University group plans to introduce commercial products based on the technology, and is also studying possible uses with humans, eg as hand washes.

The prevalence of superbugs in Irish hospitals is thought to cost the HSE about €200 million a year. Poor cleaning, overcrowding, inadequate facilities, lack of infection control staff, poor management and a lack of accountability have all contributed to unacceptable levels of infection and death within our health system. Almost every year, we hear of a new breakthrough in the war against the superbugs. It remains to be seen if ionic liquids will become the weapon of choice.

Source:  The Irish Times and BBC News Channel (NI).

12 Responses to Fighting MRSA

  1. Grannymar says:

    Hi Steph,

    I read that during the week and although it is still a long way off, it seems to be a positive move in the right direction.

  2. Steph says:

    Grannymar – Not only did you read about it but you were good enough to make sure that I’d seen it too (which I had) 😀

    This ionic liquid concept may not to come to anything. The research article was fairly mediocre. I personally think that vaporisation decontamination techniques are the way forward but only time will tell on that one. As you say, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

  3. Baino says:

    Its surprising things like this take so long to develop. I mean MRSA is a huge problem not just in Ireland, you’d think some sort of control would be a priority . .

  4. Steph says:

    Baino – Funding is a big issue and commitment to infection control another. Patient’s welfare is bottom of the pile.

  5. Annb says:

    I wonder would that Ionic treatment work on clearing out the general rot in the HSE?

  6. Geri Atric says:

    It does sound like a positive step Steph. What with all these superbugs around, going into hospital is very worrying.

    On that same subject, I’ve just returned home after another couple of weeks helping my exhausted daughter look after her sick 1 year old son. I’ve only got two grandchildren (both boys) but the youngest suffers a LOT (since birth) from deafness and ‘gluey ear’ infections and awakes many times a night crying. He has to go into hospital tomorrow and have grommits(?) i.e., tubes, put in his little ears – and hopefully this will cure the problem once and for all (and we can all have normal sleeping lives at last – whatever ‘normal’ is?)!

  7. Steph says:

    Ann – 😆 I like it – a lot!

    Geri – Lovely to hear from you. I wuz worried, I wuz!

    Your grandson’s problem does sound exhausting. Ear infections are horrible things and unfortunately some children are very prone to recurrent problems in this regard. I know all about grommets having worked for an ENT surgeon at one stage and also, both my son and his cousin had recurrent ‘glue’ ears when they were little (ear problems are more common in boys than girls). Grommets usually stay in place for an average of six to nine months and then fall out on their own. Having grommets inserted is a very simple procedure, usually done as a day procedure if the tonsils and adenoids don’t need removal at the same time. Some children go on to require recurrent grommets until their ears settle down. Speaking from personal experience, having grommets put into your child’s ear tends to be much more traumatic for the parents than the child. I hope all goes well tomorrow.

    “A grommet is a tiny tube inserted into the eardrum to allow air to enter the middle ear. The grommet does the work that the poorly functioning Eustachian tube should be doing, giving the middle ear a chance to recover.”

    Here’s a link to some more info on ear infections in children which may be of help to you.

  8. knipex says:

    Ionic fluids are interesting and so get around one seriously under reported and potential serious issue and that is bacteria developing resistance to disinfectants.

    Ionic fluids work in a completely different manner and to my knowledge there is no way for the bacteria to develop resistance. Oxidising agents have a similar advantage but have the disadvantage of causing corrosion (well the potential to cause corrosion).

    The other advantage is that there are serious disadvantages with hypochlorites (the current disinfectant of choice in hospitals). Hypochlorite is simply bleach and bleach is one of the most dangerous chemicals you can imagine. In my mind its sale should be restricted. When used incorrectly or mixed with other chemicals it can cause the release of chlorine gas (deadly), release massive amounts of oxygen or even acids. And I am not talking about mixing with hard to get chemicals, mix ammonia (another common household disinfectant) with bleach to get chlorine gas, chlorine gas was used by the Nazi’s in the concentration camps.

    It also leaves nasty residues and can cause serious heath issues to the people using it. For this reason its normally used at a pretty low concentration (1ppm) which limits its effectiveness.

    I have heard no mention of their efficacy against spores (and if they had I am sure they would be trumpeting it from the roof tops) so that leaves it ineffective against c.diff.

    Its also applied manually so that still leaves issues with the effectiveness of any manual cleaning technique.

    MRSA is not actually that hard to kill on surfaces. For all the press it gets its just a simple bacteria just like staph or any of multitudes of others. The bio-film can cause issues sure but soap and water can wash off bio-film and remove colonies. Not as effectively sure but still.

    Listening to the press you would swear this was a miracle cure, its not, its an improvement on what we have already (bleach) but what we have already is still effective at killing MRSA. I welcome its development and congratulate the team involved but we need to keep things in perspective.

    Hydrogen Peroxide Vapour has been around for decades, its effective against Bacteria, viruses, fungi and bacterial spores. Its proven, it has been researched, its in daily use around the world. There are some issues with its practical application in hospitals as the rooms have to be vacated while its being used (fine for isolation rooms but for large 6 bed, 8 bed and 16 bed wards its a problem.) and cycle times can be long (up to 8 hours for a 16 bed bay) so its also not a total solution but it is here and it does work. Its also not cheap.

    If its good enough for pharmaceutical companies to decontaminate their aseptic manufacturing suites (which are to all intents and purposes sterile) then it is surely good enough to decontaminate a hospital room.

  9. Steph says:

    Knipex – Wow! I enjoyed that, thank you!

    Your explanation of the various de-contamination processes is very clear and factual.

    It’ll be interesting to see if further research will prove ionic liquids safe for human use and also, if they will prove to be a more economical option for manual cleaning of hospital surfaces.

    I tend to be fairly sceptical these days when it comes to news of breakthroughs!

  10. Geri Atric says:

    Thanks for the helpful info. and link on gluey ear Steph – and you were right about the procedure not taking long! My grandson went in to the OR at 08.10 a.m. this morning and his mum phoned me just after 9 a.m. to say that it was all over and they were back home again!!! (Granted, the hospital is nearby – but that sure was quick!). Hopefully all will be well with him now.

  11. Geri Atric says:

    P.S. They scraped his adenoids too (ouch!)

  12. Steph says:

    Hi! Geri

    Thanks for getting back to me. I’m delighted to hear that your grandson was efficiently ‘processed’ and is now home again to recover in the peace and safety of his own home. In these days of hospital acquired infections, home is the safest place to be after any surgery. I hope he has an uneventful recovery and that the surgery will prove to be the answer to his recurrent ear infections (and his poor exhausted Mum!).

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