An article on soap in this week’s Time magazine motivated me to work on my vocabulary. It said that anti-bacterial additives, most-commonly a chemical called triclosan, “ . . . MAY do more harm than good.” Time is too cautious by far in using the word “may” in their subtitle – there is no doubt at all that overuse of antibiotics has accelerated the evolution of superbugs and the problem is nearing crisis proportions.
I have noticed for years now that it is difficult, even at Walmart with their broad merchandizing of products, to find bath and hand soap products that are not labeled “anti-bacterial”. This can only be attributed to the public meme that germs are bad and anything that kills them must be good. But, even aside from the superbug issue there is no proof that the chemicals actually reduce the transmission of disease better than plain soap. (Soap is something which I consider one of history’s greatest inventions, inventor unknown. Imagine a world without it!)
Also contributing greatly to the problem is the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry. A NYT article commenting on a new CDC report notes that “at least two million Americans fall il from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year and that at least 23,000 die from those infections . . . “ It further states:
One point of contention has been the extent to which industrial-scale animal farming contributes to the problem of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The government has estimated that more than 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals. Companies use them to prevent sickness when animals are packed together in ways that breed infection. They also use them to make animals grow faster, though federal authorities are trying to stop that.
The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.
The 114-page report counts infections from 17 drug-resistant bacteria and one fungus, pathogens that Dr. Solomon said caused an overwhelming majority of drug-resistant bacterial infections in the country. It drew on data from five disease-tracking systems, including a major count of bacterial infections reported in hospitals in 10 different areas across the country. The count of deaths was based on mathematical models — one for each resistant organism.
One particularly lethal type of drug-resistant bacteria, known as CRE, has become resistant to nearly all antibiotics on the market. It is still relatively rare, causing just 600 deaths a year, but researchers have identified it in health care facilities in 44 states.
“We are getting closer and closer to the cliff,” said Dr. Michael Bell, a C.D.C. official who presented the data.
The good news is that the federal government is acting on both the soap and the farm problems. The FDA has announced that it is requiring manufacturers to justify the potential risks by verifying that their products are more effective than ordinary soap and water at lowering the risk of infections like the kind that cause stomach ailments. They are giving companies a year to submit data and provide the proof.
Most people have grown up taking antibiotics for granted. The FDA also announced that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in American meat farming is to be phased out over three years. These actions, I submit, are a prime example of the need for regulation of industry in the public interest. Let’s just hope they are not too late. Meanwhile, here’s some new vocabulary we might need soon:
MDR Multidrug resistant pathogens (usu. bacteria), a.k.a. “superbugs”.
MRSA Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus a superbug
VRSA Vancomycin-resistant S. aureus another superbug
CRE A really, really bad superbug with a name too long to mess with.
- Superbug showdown: the post-antibiotic age (theage.com.au)
- Report finds antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ widespread in US chicken (myfox8.com)
- Needless Use Of Antibiotics In Agriculture Promotes Resistant ‘Superbugs’: Experts (medicaldaily.com)
- Stop Asking Your Doctor for Antibiotics; the CBCD Highlights the Risks of Superbugs (prweb.com)