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Vinegar May Be Cheap, Safe Way to Kill TB Germ

Accidental discovery might help labs, clinics disinfect, especially in cash-poor countries
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

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 affluent nations.

"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 after application.

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