-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, Feb. 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A potent weapon
against a dangerous class of bacteria may be as close as the
kitchen cupboard, new research suggests.
Scientists say common vinegar may be an inexpensive, non-toxic
and effective way to kill increasingly drug-resistant mycobacteria
-- including the germ that causes tuberculosis.
Although researchers often use chlorine bleach to clean
tuberculosis bacteria on surfaces, the study authors pointed out
that bleach is also both toxic and corrosive. Meanwhile, other
disinfectants may be too costly for tuberculosis labs in poor
countries were the illness most often occurs.
But the research team found that acetic acid, the active
ingredient in vinegar, does the trick cheaply and effectively.
"Mycobacteria are known to cause tuberculosis and leprosy, but non-TB mycobacteria are common in the environment, even in tap water, and are resistant to commonly used disinfectants," study senior author Howard Takiff, of the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Investigation in Caracas, said in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology.
"When they contaminate the sites of surgery or cosmetic procedures, they cause serious infections," he added. "Innately resistant to most antibiotics, they require months of therapy and can leave deforming scars."
According to Takiff, the danger is especially high in less
"Many cosmetic procedures are performed outside of hospital settings in developing countries, where effective disinfectants are not available," he explained. "These bacteria are emerging pathogens. How do you get rid of them?"
Takiff's team accidentally discovered that vinegar could kill
mycobacteria while testing a drug that needed to be dissolved in
acetic acid. The test vial that contained only acetic acid -- not
the drug -- still killed the bacteria, the team noticed.
Following this discovery, they tested various concentrations of
acetic acid and different durations of exposure. With the help of
scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York
City, the researchers found that strains of tuberculosis exposed to
a 6 percent solution of acetic acid -- slightly stronger than
standard vinegar -- effectively killed tuberculosis for 30 minutes
The germ was reduced to undetectable levels, and that was true
even for strains resistant to most antibiotics, Takiff's team
Meanwhile, in a laboratory in France, Takiff also tested how
effective acetic acid was against one of the most drug-resistant
strains of non-TB mycobacteria,
M. abscessus. That research showed a stronger solution of 10
percent acetic acid for 30 minutes was needed to effectively kill
the germ. This solution was still effective when they added albumin
protein and red blood cells to mimic what might happen in real
health care settings.
Safety didn't seem to be an issue. The study, published online
Feb. 25 in the journal
mBio, found that even a 25 percent acetic acid solution is
only a minor irritant and $100 could buy enough of this ingredient
to disinfect up to about five gallons of tuberculosis cultures or
"There is a real need for less toxic and less expensive disinfectants that can eliminate TB and non-TB mycobacteria, especially in resource-poor countries," said Takiff.
"For now this is simply an interesting observation," he noted in the news release. "Vinegar has been used for thousands of years as a common disinfectant and we merely extended studies from the early 20th century on acetic acid. Whether it could be useful in the clinic or mycobacteriology labs for sterilizing medical equipment or disinfecting cultures or clinical specimens remains to be determined."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on
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