Are You Creating a Monster?

We all used be afraid of monsters hiding under our beds or in our closets. While we may have outgrown childish fears of Monsters Inc. style baddies exploding from our closets, some of us may be unknowingly cultivating an even more terrifying monster in our own kitchens. Antibiotic resistant bacteria.

 

 How is this an issue?

In comparison to other countries, Americans are viewed as rather neurotic when it comes to “germs” just take a look in the cleaning aisles of your local grocery store if you don’t believe me, everything boasts killing 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses. Well, why is this an issue? If we want to be healthy, shouldn’t we try to kill bacteria before we come in contact with it? The answer to this question is a rather complicated balancing act; we need to prevent the spread of deadly bacteria and viruses to prevent terrible diseases, yet in this pursuit we may actually be hastening the adaptation of new “Super Bugs”.

Despite the promises shouted at us from the cleaning aisle, our hope of living in a (nearly) germ free environment is simply not possible nor in our best interests. Germs are everywhere and not just hiding in dark places waiting to cause disease. Bacteria are actually an important part of our lives, they live in your gut and help you digest food, they live on your skin, and are counterintuitively, an important part of building and maintaining a healthy immune system. There have even been some studies indicating that a lack of exposure in childhood can lead to a weaker immune system in adulthood.

Through our constant nondiscriminatory battle against all forms of germs, we are actually both weakening our immune systems as well as allowing anti-bacterial resistant populations to flourish. Think about it. You wipe down your counter at the end of the day with a bleach wipe and kill 99.9% of microbes on your counter, that 0.1% that survives now has less competition for nutrients and space and can thus reproduce more quickly. While this will not likely have a great effect on you in your kitchen, this increased rate in the growth of bacteria can have devastating effects in other settings. For example, antibiotic resistant MRSA is now spreading through hospitals and preying on many patients. The frightening truth is that bacteria can evolve much faster than our ability to target their new adaptations; if we continue like this, we will continue to see deadlier strains of diseases that no longer respond antibiotics.

 

What can you do?

1. Switch from antibacterial hand soap. Although it seems counterintuitive, the process of washing your hands for the proper amount of time gets rid of a huge number of germs on your hands. Additionally, washing your hands kills germs more “evenly”, meaning antibiotic resistant bacteria will still have to compete with normal bacteria for room to grow.

2. Reduce your use of hand sanitizer. Save your skin and just wash your hands instead.

3. Reduce your use of heavy household cleaners. You don’t really need to use a heavy cleaner to wash down your counter at end of the day. Save your heavy duty Clorox wipes for the days you cook with raw meat or eggs.

4. If you are prescribed antibiotics take the FULL course. When people stop taking antibiotics after they begin to feel better, they allow the stronger bacteria to continue to live and infect others. Taking the full course will (hopefully) ensure that all bacteria are eradicated. 

 

Bacteria will continue to adapt in response to our increased ability to kill them. That’s the way life works. However, we do have the ability to curb the development of these monsters through our own habits and choices. Join the battle against "Super Bugs"!

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3