As antibiotic resistance remains a considerable threat to the world — whereby drugs used to treat potentially deadly infections gradually stop working — scientists from the University of Queensland believe that an overuse of antibiotics is not the only factor spurring this global threat. Instead, the team has determined that a common ingredient found in toothpaste and hand wash is a likely accomplice.

A compound found in over 2,000 personal-care products such as hand wash and toothpaste — called triclosan — is not an antibiotic but an antimicrobial compound. Nevertheless, the compound kills bacteria outside of the body and is often used in greater quantities than antibiotics. With little thought as to the role they play in antibiotic resistance, the products containing the compound are sold with little regulation (yet, the compound has been banned in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)).

As such, lead researcher Dr. Jianhua Guo and a team of scientists looked at wastewater in areas without a ban on triclosan and found that: “Wastewater from residential areas has similar or even higher levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes compared to hospitals, where you would expect greater antibiotic concentrations.”

“We then wondered whether non-antibiotic, antimicrobial (NAAM) chemicals such as triclosan can directly induce antibiotic resistance,” Dr. Guo said.

“This discovery provides strong evidence that the triclosan found in personal care products that we use daily is accelerating the spread of antibiotic resistance,” concluded Dr. Guo.

As triclosan makes its way into the wastewater of countries that have not yet banned this compound, experts hope that these findings will influence decisions to do so. With an estimated 700,000 people succumbing each year to antimicrobial-resistant infections, experts are afraid that number could grow with some predicting that it will reach 10 million a year by 2050 without action.

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