Antibiotic Resistance, What Can I Do?

Think about it, when was the last time you washed your hands with soap that wasn’t antibacterial? Heck, it’s almost impossible just to find normal soap these days, and instead every label and package screams “antibacterial” in a way that makes plain old soap seem downright ineffective.

But there’s a problem—one of the biggest contributors to the antibiotic resistance problem we’re facing today is exactly that: the overuse of antibacterial soap. And really there’s a lot of speculation about whether or not antibacterial soaps actually clean any better than regular soap. But even more concerning is that their widespread use might even be making harmful bacteria even stronger and more resistant to antibiotics. Yikes!

So how does all that work? Well, say you have a group of bacteria and you treat them with an antibiotic. Usually, the vast majority of those bacteria will die and the infection gets under control. But sometimes, the few bacteria that survive are genetically more resistant to that particular antibiotic. Those bacteria then multiply, resulting in a second infection that can’t be effectively treated by the antibiotic that worked the first time. Hence, antibiotic resistance. 

But how do bacteria get that way in the first place? Well, it happens in the genes of the bacteria. For example, mutations may occur over time, and those mutations are passed on to the next bacterial generation. So, when a population of bacteria is exposed over and over to the same antibiotics, eventually its collective DNA mutates in such a way that it becomes resistant to that antibiotic. 

What does all of this mean for you? Essentially, our obsession with antibacterial soap may actually be increasing the resistance of the bacteria it is supposed to be fighting, which is not good! So this week, instead of reaching for the antibacterial soap the next time you scrub up, your challenge is to try using just regular soap and warm water instead. Coupled with about 20 minutes of hand-washing, this tried-and-true method should effectively get rid of germs.

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