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Antibacterial Soap Causes Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

1863 words - 7 pages

   The next time you are in your kitchen, look at the area where you prepare food.  Do you wonder how many disease-causing bacteria could be living there?  There most certainly are some.  But don't let that image drive you to throw down this magazine and run for the antibacterial cleanser under the sink.  Right now it is pretty tough for those bacteria to make it into your body and begin wreaking havoc, because there just aren't enough of them right there in your kitchen.  But TV commercials for antibacterial cleansers would have you believe otherwise.  Those cheery soccer moms want you to be so afraid of the bacteria living in your kitchen that you make sure to buy their product-the one that "kills 99.9% of bacteria."  Now, it's true that bacteria can cause illness, and as humans we are often at odds with bacteria, but we just can't kill them all.  If we try, we could see our plans backfire and send ourselves into a new and precarious future of disease.  To understand how, we simply need to take a look at how bacteria have become rapidly resistant to antibiotics, and we see a story unfolding that begins with penicillin as an attack on disease and now has become a Frankenstein's monster of sorts.


Since the 1950s, antibiotics have been widely available and frequently prescribed, and consequently our overuse of and dependence on antibiotics has left us powerless against new, stronger bacterial species capable of causing life-threatening illnesses, such as tuberculosis. In their valiant effort to create safe, disease free environments, hospitals have unwittingly contributed to the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Although these "superbacteria" are now found mainly in hospitals, a new wave of household products containing antibacterial agents could spread the danger to our homes.  The agents are mixed into soaps, detergents, and lotions, and can even be impregnated into such items as toys, carpet, pillows, socks, sponges, and cutting boards.  As consumers, we may feel a sense of security by purchasing and using antibacterial products, but if we go overboard and attempt to establish a sterile, germ free environment in our homes, we will find ourselves breeding bacteria that are highly resistant to antibacterials, and, possibly, to antibiotics as well.


Bacteria are microscopic, single celled entities that can be found on inanimate surfaces and on parts of the body that come in contact with the outside world, such as the skin, mucous membranes, and the lining of the intestinal tract.  Some kinds of bacteria cause disease, but most bacteria are benign.  In fact, the natural bacterial flora of the body is instrumental in protecting us from disease by competing with disease causing, or pathogenic bacteria.  The competition limits the pathogens and often prevents them from multiplying aggressively and causing illness.  However, antibiotics do not know the difference between "good" and "bad" bacteria.  They kill...

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