17 February 2010

Killing Them with Cleanliness

Cleanliness might be next to godliness, but antiseptics are next to paranoia. I've been noticing something when I go shopping for soap and cleaners--it's getting harder and harder to find any that aren't labelled "antibacterial." This is a problem.

As a borderline germaphobe, believe me when I say I understand that bacteria, germs, cooties, and all things gross can be damn scary. I mean, seriously--you can't even see them and they can kill you! So it's not really surprising that store shelves are as clogged with antiseptics as our airwaves are with fear-mongering commercials featuring helpless children and germ-laden surfaces.

The thing with germs is that they are living organisms, and as such they adapt and evolve. On top of which, even the best antibacterial products only kill 99.9% of bacteria. I know it seems weird to say "only" with a percentage like that, but those 0.01% bacteria that survive? Well, they're stronger and even more resistant to those antibacterial products. And as they reproduce and get hosed down again with said products, the next batch of surviving 0.01% are even stronger and even more resistant. You know what you end up with over time? Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, aka Superbugs. And then we're screwed.

That's not to say that washing your hands with antibacterial soap is the sole cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but why add to a growing problem when you don't need to? So, what should you do instead?

  • Stop buying antibacterial products and cleansers.
  • Regular soap and hot water are all you need to keep your hands and most surfaces clean! Regular cleansers will take care of the rest.
  • Wash your hands (with regular soap and water) regularly and thoroughly.
  • Be aware of cross-contamination. If you sneeze into your hand, don't touch anything else until you wash it (you might find sneezing into your sleeve easier all around). If raw meat touches a cutting board or utensil, don't use that board or utensil for anything else (the commercials would have us believe that everyone places raw meat directly on counter tops. If you're doing this, you need more help than I can offer here!)
  • Buy organic meat, milk, and eggs (the use--and overuse-- of antibiotics in agriculture is a huge contributor to the problem).
  • Get over the paranoia--our bodies are teeming with bacteria and micro-organisms, most of which are harmless or even beneficial. When you go out of your way to kill the bad bacteria, you end up killing the good ones too (that's why people on antibiotics often experience yeast overgrowth, e.g., thrush). Besides, exposure to a little dirt builds up the immune system.
Just remember: clean is good; sterile is overkill.

Image from freeimages.co.uk

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