Are antibacterial soaps creating bacterial resistance?In our quest for antibacterial products, is the bacteria becoming resitant? Everything in our world today is antibiotic, antibacterial and disinfecting, is this a good idea?
Last year, Americans spent about one billion dollars on antibacterial products. Today, a variety of antibacterial products are available, from hand sanitizers, dish detergents, surface cleaner to soaps
Americans are clean freaks. Last year we spent over a billion dollars on products to purge our homes of any germs that might be cohabiting with us on our counter tops, our hands, our toilet bowls, our showers, and even on our food. We all listen to the news and the horror of contracting E.coli or Salmonella from a mishandled burger at our favorite fast food chain is downright scary! Many of us carry a little bottle of antibacterial gel in our pockets and use it frequently. So, here's the good news: These products work. They protect us from, disease-causing bacteria, such as E.coli and Salmonella (the main culprit in stomach ailments caused by food) and Streptococcus (which can cause respiratory, skin, and urinary tract infections) until you touch the next thing with your hands. The definition of an antibacterial agent is that it must kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause disease and odor. In most of these agents you will find the following chemicals: triclosan, ethyl alcohol, and quaternary ammonium compounds.
More Good News
Antibacterial agents are doing the job on 99 percent of the germs! They wreak havoc on certain bacteria, but,(and here comes the bad news -- you knew it was coming, didn't you) they don't touch viruses, and viruses account for a very large part of illnesses. The various products also are limited in the time they actually are effective. It hasn't been proven exactly how long they will work, but as soon as your clean hands touch anything else, you aren't protected anymore. The antibacterial isn't killing all germs your hands are coming in contact with, after the fact. Dish detergents packed with antibacterial properties DON'T prevent the growth of bacteria on dishes, but do protect your hands. Your antibiotic sponge is not providing protection to counter tops, but it is inhibiting the growth of bacteria within the sponge. The sponge is an ideal environment for those nasty germs to breed, so the fact that they cannot live in your sponge makes it worthwhile.
More Bad News
While we are definitely having some success in fighting our household bacteria, some experts are concerned about the long-term problems with the use of these agents. Just as our overuse of oral antibiotics is creating bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, researchers are worried that we are seeing the development of "super bugs" that are resistant to triclosan. These "super bugs" are immune to disease-fighting efforts.
Another problem investigators note is that by the actual means we are using to create a germ-free environment in our homes, we are reducing the body's own ability to fight the infections.
So Now What?
In the light of "super germs" and "super bugs" and bodies that can't fight off an infection on its own, what are we supposed to do? Are antibacterial products beneficial to us as a society? Health experts believe that they indeed are valuable in places where infectious diseases spread rapidly, such as nursing homes, hospitals, child care centers, and restaurants. People who suffer from diseases that compromise the immune system may also find antibacterial soaps and cleaners more beneficial than traditional cleaners. But by far the most effective tool in reducing the spread of germs by both bacteria and viruses is proper hand washing. Wash your hands with soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds. Using your traditional household cleaners that are labeled as disinfectants and contain either ammonia or bleach, will help to get rid of bacteria AS WELL AS viruses and other household germs. The use of paper towels is even more sanitary than dish cloth or a regular sponge.
And please, be sure to read the directions when you are using an antibacterial product. Many products have very specific directions to be effective in killing germs and bacteria -- an example being a surface cleaner that needs to be left in place for several minutes before it is rinsed off. If you wipe away the agent too soon, the antibacterial action is lost. Just as with taking your full course of antibiotics, you need to be sure to use your soaps and cleaning agents correctly.