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Chemicals working against superbug plan


Australia’s national strategy for fighting deadly superbugs fails to deal with a range of chemicals already banned in the United States.

The US Food and Drug Administration banned a common cleaning additive, triclosan, in 2016, along with 18 other “antibacterial” chemicals.

The additives, which are found in soap, laundry detergents and cleaning products branded as “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” in Australia, actually work to promote the development of superbugs.

“Every time we use antimicrobial compounds that are designed to kill bacteria, the bacteria respond by getting tougher and more aggressive, ultimately becoming resistant to conventional therapies like antibiotics,” Trevor Lithgow from Monash University told AAP.

The WHO predicts drug-resistant superbugs will kill 10 million people a year by 2050, including 10s of thousands of Australians.

“Superbugs are evolving, anything that can be done has to be done fast,” Prof Lithgow said.

The federal government published its second high-level strategy for dealing with antimicrobial resistance in 2019, but the professor said it fails to address household cleaning products or agriculture, both areas of major concern.

“The federal government should be applauded for taking this seriously … but we have to be more broad in the way we apply this strategy,” he said.

He’s called for a ban on antimicrobial additives to cleaning products, saying consumers don’t realise that they contribute to the development of superbugs.

Most soap and cleaning companies produce “antibacterial” versions of their products that contain these additives, Prof Lithgow said.

Superbug infections are also being driven by the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, he added.

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