Because commonly used disinfectants don’t kill human papillomavirus (HPV), hospitals may need policy changes to prevent non-sexual transmission of the virus.
“Because it is difficult to produce infectious HPV particles for research, little has been known about HPV susceptibility to disinfection,” says Craig Meyers, professor of microbiology and immunology at Penn State College of Medicine.
Use of disinfectants on HPV in health care settings has been based on what works on other viruses or what is thought should be effective.
HPV is estimated to be among the most common sexually transmitted diseases and is linked to cervical cancers. For this study, researchers grew HPV16, a specific strain that is responsible for up to 60 percent of all HPV-associated cancers. They then used 11 common disinfectants on the virus.
These disinfectants included ones made of ethanol and isopropanol because these are common ingredients in surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers used in both public and health care settings.
Study of these hand sanitizers is important because other research has shown high levels of HPV DNA on fingers of patients with current genital infections. While HPV is susceptible to certain disinfectants, including hypochlorite and peracetic acid, it is resistant to alcohol-based disinfectants.
“Chemical disinfectants in hand sanitizer are commonly used in the general population to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” Meyers says. “For flu or cold viruses they are very effective. But the data shows that they do nothing for preventing the spread of human papillomavirus.”
They also tested other common disinfectants, including glutaraldehyde, which is used for sterilization in medical and dental facilities. Results show that glutaraldehyde is not effective at inactivating the HPV virus.
Results were published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
Bleach or the autoclave
Other research has suggested that HPV could be transmitted non-sexually. The current study shows that medical instruments considered sterile could pose a risk for transmission.
“Chemical disinfectants used in the hospitals and other healthcare settings have absolutely no effect on killing human papillomavirus,” Meyers says. “So unless bleach or autoclaving is used in the hospital setting, human papillomavirus is not being killed and there is a potential spread of HPV through hospital acquired or instrument or tool infection.”
Meyers says the results suggest a need for a change in policies about disinfectant use.
Meyers collaborated with Richard Robison, an expert in microbial disinfectants at Brigham Young University, as well as other researchers at Brigham Young University and Penn State College of Medicine.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease of the National Institutes of Health and the BYU Mentoring Environment Grant program funded this research.
Source: Penn State