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Superbug infections: could salt be the solution?

WATCH ABOVE: According to AHS, antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect about 100 patients a month. But now there's a home-grown solution that's safe and simple. Su-Ling Goh explains.

EDMONTON – Doug Olson isn’t a scientist but he invented something in his garage that has the potential to save lives from superbugs.

And it has just one ingredient: salt.

“Everybody says the same thing … ‘Why isn’t it being used already?'” Olson said with a smile.

The Edmonton man spent years working in the meat industry, where salt is used to inhibit or prevent growth of pathogens like Salmonella.

“I was taught that salt is used to preserve meat so I knew it kept the bacteria in check,” Olson explained. “I just didn’t know how fast or if it outright killed it.”

READ MORE: How superbugs are threatening Canada and the world 

Out of curiosity, Olson paid for the initial lab tests; comparing salt to other surfaces in terms of infection control.

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It turns out, the superbug, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can only survive for five minutes on salt. It can live for 90 minutes on copper and more than six hours on stainless steel.

Now Olson has created salt door knobs, bed rails, faucets and toilet handles – all out of $6 salt blocks (the kind cows lick).

He calls the product line Outbreaker and is in talks with two hospitals to have the fixtures tested on site.

Various handles made of 100% salt.
Various handles made of 100% salt.

“Most of the infections you’re going to get are … from touching something that’s become soiled with some sort of pathogen, then touching your face and getting it in your body,” Brayden Whitlock, one of Olson’s business partners, explained.

“We are hoping [Outbreaker] is going to play a pivotal role in not giving the bacteria a place to grow.”

Whitlock is a University of Alberta PhD candidate in Physiology who Olson met at Cabela’s. Whitlock has co-authored a paper on the subject with Dr. Stephanie Smith, a U of A  infectious disease specialist. It was published in a medical journal.

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READ MORE: Reduced use of antibiotics does not lead to more complications

Smith says health care facilities currently rely heavily on hand hygiene for infection control.

“But we all know that no one’s perfect,” Smith said. “So, although we promote [hand-washing], having surfaces that actually have anti-microbial properties, or basically don’t harbour these organisms, can … lead to a significant improvement in terms of transmission.”

Olson has patented Outbreaker in 12 countries. He says he’s not in it to make money; just to make a difference.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling to think that many lives could be at stake here,” he said.

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According to Alberta Health Services, superbugs infect about 100 patients per month in Alberta.

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