Hospitals use disinfectants but they don't all kill the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a new paper. Non-sexual transmission of the virus is exceedingly rare but hospitals need to be cautious so changes should be made, say researchers from Penn State College of Medicine and Brigham Young University.

HPV is commonly transmitted, the bulk of the population has had it and almost anyone sexually active will get it at some point in their lives and never know it. But because it has been linked to cervical cancers, health care providers are concerned about non-sexual transmission also. 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. 

"Because it is difficult to produce infectious HPV particles for research, little has been known about HPV susceptibility to disinfection," said Craig Meyers, Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Penn State College of Medicine, who collaborated with Richard Robison, an expert in microbial disinfectants at Brigham Young University. 

The disinfectants included ones made of ethanol and isopropanol, because those 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 said. "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. Some research has suggested that HPV could be transmitted non-sexually. If so, medical instruments considered sterile because they used alcohol-based disinfectants 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 said. "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."

 Published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
Source: Penn State