Tag Archives for " antibiotic resistance "

“Sleeper” bacteria spores are like mold spores

“Sleeper” bacteria spores are like mold spores

One of the unsavory facts about mold is its ability to lie dormant when food and moisture sources dry up, until conditions allow it to “bloom” again.  Scientists are finding out that there are other microbes that exhibit this same behavior, necessitating finding new ways to detect their presence.  

One of these is Acinetobacter Baumannii.  This superbug is usually present in wet environments, such as soil and mud, ponds, wetlands, wastewater, fish farms and seawater.  Healthy people can also carry the Acinetobacter bacteria on their skin, particularly if they work in a healthcare setting. It can survive for a long time on dry surfaces, making it difficult to eliminate. (Acinetobacter: What to know)  

Scientists have recently discovered a new state of “life” of this bacteria.  When living conditions become too stressful, many bacteria enter a dormant state that is almost death-like, showing no metabolic activity. These are known as spores. 

Acinetobacter baumannii can alternatively form special cells which are in a kind of deep sleep. Although these cells still show signs of life and breathe, it is no longer possible to cultivate them on culture media in Petri dishes. "We know this state from cholera bacteria, for example; it is referred to as the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state," explains Professor Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt.  (The deep slumber of a hospital pathogen: Why infections with Acinetobacter baumannii can flare up again and again)

As of the study date (September 2023), scientists have kept the acinetobacter in VBNC state for 11 months, and are still able to “wake them up” after 2 days of “rehab” with special nutrients and oxygen.  No end is in sight for the length of time these bacteria can hibernate.  

The danger is that courses of normal antibiotics and culture procedures (on a plate) can yield negative culture results, which would indicate that a patient is clear of such dangerous microbes.  However, VBNC cells can be hiding in nooks and crannies of the body, waiting to resurge when stress or antibiotics are removed  Tests like PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) can be used to detect VBNC cells because they identify specific genes that cause virulence and predict antibiotic resistance, but it’s probable that these are not used in smaller hospitals currently.

Acinetobacter Baumannii is not the only bacteria with “sleeper” capabilities; dormancy or persistence is just a “state” that many bacteria can occupy.  Mycobacterium smegmatis, which is related to the bacteria that causes pneumonia, was studied in 2013 and discovered that “persister” bacteria continued to divide and die even during antibiotic treatment so that the total number of bacteria stayed approximately the same.  The fact that the cells weren’t classically “dormant” but still continued to divide, makes them technically “dynamically resistant” to antibiotics, while other microbes use other techniques to evade death and can be labeled “tolerant, latent, indifferent, dormant and non-multiplying”.  (Sleeper cells – the secret lives of invincible bacteria) However, it all comes back to their ability to survive antibiotics, which is dangerous for us!

Here is some recent literature on other “sleeper cells”

Since persistent bacteria are difficult to kill with traditional antibiotics, scientists are pursuing several strategies to take them out.  One is to find ways to wake all of them up, so that they are easy to kill with accessible drugs.  The second is to discover what genes or proteins allow them to stay alive in sleep mode.  Some of these “upregulate” cell functions (like scavenging for iron), and some of them downregulate cell functions (like digestive functions).  A third tactic would be to look for drugs that kill the sleeper cells, not just active ones.  

To the layman, all this sounds like poking into a hibernating bear’s den with different sticks until you find one of the right length poking in the right place, and having the best gun or trap ready for when he wakes up!  The sad fact is that people regularly suffer from hosting these persistent bacteria in their bodies and we sincerely hope that scientists can find the right triggers in labs to find the combination of methods to help patients who need it.

Bacteria, mold and other microbes also populate our homes in the form of spores, persisting for years until the right moisture AND nutrients come along.  Although there is no “silver bullet” like an antibiotic to remove them completely, we can use the same principles to keep the population under control so that our bodies don’t suffer!

  • Clean regularly with non-toxic ingredients.  The less dust and dirt we allow to accumulate in our homes, the less microbe spores are lying around.  Check out our article on Tackling Dust in Your Home.

  • The FDA states that over-the-counter antibacterial hand soaps don’t protect us from disease any better than regular soap and water.  The cleansing action happens in the thorough agitation of soap and water over hands, and a good rinse with water.  Many “antibacterial” soaps also contain ingredients, like triclosan, which can be harmful to us over time.  

  • Since you can’t easily scrub and rinse items like your countertop or toilet seat with soap and water, however, different solutions need to be employed there.  Sure, you can get antibacterial cleaning sprays, but the same concerns apply: are they safe long-term?  Instead, opt for cleaners that are non-toxic and are less likely to create antibiotic resistance.  We’ve recommended the following cleaners for these reasons:

    • Our all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner TotalClean combines both copper and iodine, and when they are combined, they produce peroxide!  In simple terms, the peroxide acts as an “oxidizing agent”, destroying the means for bacteria to take in oxygen and suffocating them.  

    • The Honest Company Disinfecting Spray also uses hydrogen peroxide to clean, disinfect, and deodorize while meeting EPA’s criteria for products effective against SARS-CoV-2 and a laundry list of other germs.

    • Because hypochlorous acid is an oxidant, it leaves nothing behind for bacteria and viruses to create resistance to and therefore does not contribute to the superbug (multidrug-resistant organisms) dilemma.(The Role of Hypochlorous Acid in Managing Wounds: Reduction in Antibiotic Usage)   Hypochlorous is not bleach; in fact, it’s superior to bleach.  Some hypochlorous cleaners include Force of Nature and Clean Republic’s All Purpose Cleaner.

  • Of course, change your HVAC filter regularly so that spores do not find their way to your air handler’s evaporator coil, where moisture can allow them to reactivate.  We’ve got some great filters with activated carbon and MERV 10-14 ratings (for more on MERV, check out our article HVAC filter changes are vital to your indoor air quality

  • The technology in our bipolar ionizers like our Germ Defender, Upgraded Air Angel Mobile and Whole Home Polar Ionizer has been tested against bacteria such as E. coli, MRSA and C. diff (see test results here), so why not add them to your non-toxic cleaning arsenal as a passive way to keep the spores under control? 

There’s a lot about the microscopic world of bacteria and mold that we don’t know, and obsessing over it doesn’t help much!  Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to keep safe using non-toxic products and methods that are tried and true. 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Advances in Phototherapy

Advances in Phototherapy

Phototherapy, or light therapy, is the exposure to direct sunlight or artificial light at controlled wavelengths in order to treat a variety of medical disorders. (Light therapy) Light therapy has been around for a long time.  Natural sunlight is free and abundant in many climates, and doctors have known that it does other things for our bodies like assisting in producing vitamin D, elevating mood and killing dangerous bacteria and mold on our skin.  However, natural sunlight is not always available, and also has ultraviolet wavelengths that can be dangerous in longer doses.  New technology is able to select the wavelengths and with the right exposure, provide the same healing benefits as natural sunlight without additional skin cancer risks. 

Phototherapy is now a standard treatment for skin conditions like psoriasis (raised, red, scaly patches on skin), vitiligo (loss of color on patches of skin), eczema (a condition that makes your skin red and itchy), as well as various forms of skin cancer.  The key to healing is selecting the correct wavelength, intensity and duration of exposure, which are determined by research trials on animals and humans.  Ultraviolet light has been classified into three groups of descending wavelengths: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C (for more in-depth explanation on wavelength, visit our article here).  UV-A and -B are the types used for phototherapy, with UV-B being further broken down into narrow-and broad-bands.  Narrow band UV-B has been found to be most effective for psoriasis, for example, and can be produced by traditional ultraviolet lamps, or LED bulbs.  Excimer lasers have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating chronic, localized psoriasis plaques by emitting a high-intensity beam of UVB. (Phototherapy)  These treatments can be applied in doctors offices or at home using approved medical equipment and prescription.

Since we know that sunlight has the power to purify water and disinfect surfaces like sheets, fabric and plastics, we know that it is actually killing microbes as well.  Again, it’s the UV wavelengths in sunlight (including UV-C) that break up DNA and inactivate microbes and mold.  Why not apply this to skin and wounds to kill infections?  Ultraviolet light was first used to sterilize bacteria over 100 years ago, a treatment based on the work of Niels Finsen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1903 for using filtered sunlight as a cure for skin tuberculosis.  Now uv light is being used in tandem with antibiotics to enhance their effects and overcome antibiotic resistance, which is a growing problem.  Bacteria can evolve to resist drugs, but bacteria cannot resist the destructive power of UV light.  

Antimicrobial photodynamic therapy (aPDT) is a chemical reaction triggered by visible light for use on antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains.  It involves molecular oxygen, light, and a photosensitizer (something that creates a reaction between oxygen and light). To test it, researchers used an already FDA-approved dye called methylene blue as a photosensitizer, and specially constructed panels of 25 LEDs in reflective cones.  Light and photosensitizer were tested with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus to determine the lowest dose and shortest series of antibiotics that could weaken the bacterial membranes and other resistance mechanisms.  The resistant bacteria, weakened by aPDT treatments, were killed with far lower doses of current antibiotics, and it’s a promising method for treating resistant bacteria in wounds and reducing antibiotic use in general.  (Light-Based Therapy Weakens Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria)

At the other end of the light spectrum (literally), red and infrared lights also promote wound healing, but possibly for different reasons.  Although a Danish physician (Niels Ryberg Finsen) received a Nobel Prize in 1903 for discovering that exposure to concentrated red light accelerated the healing of sores, scientists today are only beginning to learn how and why this happens.  Research funded by NASA in the 1990’s showed that near-infrared laser light speeds healing of wounds, particularly those that are starved for oxygen, by boosting the production of growth-factor proteins, collagen, and blood vessels.One company that spun out of NASA’s programs is Multi Radiance Medical, which produces laser units for physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists,  chiropractors, and veterinarians.   Although lasers have the possibility of damaging surrounding tissue, and they also use a lot of energy and they’re expensive, LED arrays are a better alternative.  They are cheaper, use less energy, can be designed to emit multiple wavelengths, and cover a larger area than a laser.  (NASA Research Illuminates Medical Uses of Light)  This is where the consumer must be careful, however, as today there are many manufacturers of LED red light therapy devices, and without applying the research of specific wavelengths, intensity and timed sessions, these devices are simply lamps, not healing devices.  When searching for a red light therapy device, you want to look for a device with 600 to 900 nanometers (nm) of light, as well as one that is easy to use or easy to wear. (Red Light Therapy Review)  Therefore, it’s wise to research the manufacturer on their knowledge of the technology, dosage instructions and independent testing of their products for wavelength, flicker rate.  This manufacturer has developed a helpful blog to understand red light therapy and its uses.

Here’s the best part: despite all the technology and expense, the benefits of UV light and infrared light can be free.  We know that sunlight has the “full spectrum” of light–from ultraviolet to infrared–and it can be helpful in moderate doses, not "lying on tinfoil basking like a trout"!  With the right intensity and dosage, it doesn’t have to hurt your skin, but can actually heal it.  Our parents and grandparents might have advised us to “get out in the sun”, and moderate exposure is the key to getting more benefits than downsides.  

Photo by Kent Pilcher on Unsplash