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News roundup: Preventing the spread of germs

Posted on: Friday, January 22nd, 2016

A new antibiotic resistant strain of superbug is spreading quickly across the world, it has been reported.

The MCR-1 gene renders E. coli and some other bacteria resistant to colistin. Colistin is the antibiotic that is used as a last resort, when trying to treat infections and diseases that have not responded to other drugs.

It is the drug that is often used for raising food animals and French researchers have detected the resistant MCR-1 gene in 94 farms dating back from 2005 onwards. 

This particularly virulent superbug was first uncovered in China, in November 2015, but has rapidly spread to other parts of the globe.

It has now been discovered in at least 17 countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Thailand and Canada.

Healthcare workers and patients alike have been advised to wash their hands at least five times a day to avoid falling prey to this disease.

The role of toilets

Let’s face it, toilets are hardly the most exciting thing to talk about. However, they play an important role in sanitation and waste disposal, and so therefore, it is important that they are kept clean and hygienic.

That is obvious. What may not be so obvious is that they could potentially play a much greater role in human society than mere waste disposal.

Indeed, the concept of a new reinvented toilet is being drawn up by  the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programme team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The team is creating a number of ways to develop sanitation technology. If it gets off the ground, it could potentially help to deliver sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who currently lack access. 

The way it would work is it would harvest energy from human waste in order to produce sterile water for washing. Solid waste could also be processed to be used as an odourless fertiliser.

An even more radical, if slightly unpalatable idea is being trialled at  by the Gates Foundation in partnership with manufacturing company Janicki Bioenergy, whereby human faeces could be converted into drinking water.

Toilet liners

Talking of lavatories, new research suggests that toilet liners, which are used by many people to prevent the transmission of germs may actually be pointless.

Infectious disease specialist Dr William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the reason why the liners are pointless is because the risk of “catching anything” from a toilet seat is minimal.

He explained in an interview with HuffPost: “That's because toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents – you won't catch anything.”

While there are germs such as E.coli on toilet seats, the skin acts as a preventative barrier, according to Mr Schaffner.

Of course, effective bathroom cleaning is another way to minimise the spread of germs and bacteria.