Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is Using Antibacterial Products Good For Healthy Kids?

A few weeks ago Scientific American ran this article that should cause some debate about these products.
Traditionally, people washed bacteria from their bodies and homes using soap and hot water, alcohol, chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide. These substances act nonspecifically, meaning they wipe out almost every type of microbe in sight—fungi, bacteria and some viruses—rather than singling out a particular variety.

Soap works by loosening and lifting dirt, oil and microbes from surfaces so they can be easily rinsed away with water, whereas general cleaners such as alcohol inflict sweeping damage to cells by demolishing key structures, then evaporate. "They do their job and are quickly dissipated into the environment," explains microbiologist Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine.

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.

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