Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good

Posted on June 7, 2007  Comments (2)

photo of a dandelion

Strange but True: Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good by Coco Ballantyne:

Unlike these traditional cleaners, antibacterial products leave surface residues, creating conditions that may foster the development of resistant bacteria, Levy notes. For example, after spraying and wiping an antibacterial cleaner over a kitchen counter, active chemicals linger behind and continue to kill bacteria, but not necessarily all of them.

When a bacterial population is placed under a stressor—such as an antibacterial chemical—a small subpopulation armed with special defense mechanisms can develop. These lineages survive and reproduce as their weaker relatives perish. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is the governing maxim here, as antibacterial chemicals select for bacteria that endure their presence.

Pretty basic understanding of evolution makes the breeding of very resilient bacteria a fairly obvious result. One thing that might not be as obvious until it is mentioned is that by killing off the “weaker” bacteria you also provide a niche for the more resilient bacteria to multiply and fill the gap left by the bacteria that were not a problem that were killed off. Imagine if, instead of digging out the 3 dandelions you wanted to remove from your yard, you removed all plants from your yard (including those 3 dandelions). I would bet most often that would result in more dandelions not fewer as the dandelions were able to fill in the void of plants in the yard.

In general, however, good, long-term hygiene means using regular soaps rather than new, antibacterial ones, experts say. “The main way to keep from getting sick,” Gustafson says, “is to wash your hands three times a day and don’t touch mucous membranes.”

Good advice. Related: FDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug ResistanceAntibiotic resistance: How do antibiotics kill bacteria?CDC Clean Hands Campaign

2 Responses to “Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good”

  1. CuriousCat: Antibacterial Soaps are Bad
    September 3rd, 2007 @ 10:15 pm

    “The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators…”

  2. What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? » Curious Cat Science Blog
    August 9th, 2011 @ 10:05 pm

    Throwing away the miracle of antibiotics because we are too lazy, too shortsighted, too greedy or too uncaring is going to bring misery to millions of people…

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