Are chemicals really winning against superbugs? Short answer: no.
Antibiotics are getting a lot of attention these days; and not for good reason. It seems their overuse has caused and is causing a spike of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (superbugs) which is infecting people in some parts of the United States. A recent news story caught my attention and reaffirmed my use of steam and probiotic cleaners.
What’s going on?
You may have already heard of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, but there is another one on the rise which tops the World Health Organization’s list of dangerous bacteria: Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. In 2013, 39 patients were infected with the superbug at a hospital in Illinois. A hospital spokesperson said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the outbreak to a tainted medical device. Two patients died.
Today, the Center for Disease Controls reports over 175 CRE cases in the U.S. alone. With the numbers on the rise, folks are looking for solutions and remedies. Too many times, though, the “remedy” turns out to be stronger antibiotics. “We need to be very, very careful about when we use antibiotics because that’s what leads to more resistance,” said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, Medical Director of Infection Control at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s that antibiotics use over years that has led to the problem we have right now.”
How’d we get here?
Based on the countless studies and articles I’ve read, there is one trend I see in the overuse of antibiotics that gets a tiny mention, but absolutely no focus: the chemical cleaners being used to clean equipment, bedding, and other components are not effective at all and are being misapplied. The victims of such harmful bacteria often contract the infection from contaminated tubing, devices, even improper hand washing. So if the majority of antibiotic-resistant-bacteria cases come from the environment, why then is the focus of prevention on the ingestion of antibiotic drugs?
While antibiotics come in pill form, in fact they can also be something topical like an ointment or perhaps a chemical disinfectant like bleach or ammonia. Chemical cleaners, I would argue, are far more prevalent than any antibiotic drugs. Nearly everyone has some form of disinfectants or chemical cleaners in their household. And since you don’t need a prescription for some of the most dangerous chemicals known to mankind, you can certainly pick some up at the store yourself and start cleaning. Being freely available, it’s the widespread use of chemical cleaners that has led us down this slippery slope.
However, if you’re in the mood to clean or need to sanitize your environment for peace of mind, my suggestion is to leave those chemical cleaners behind as you may be contributing to superbug creation.
The pitfalls of chemical cleaners.
You may think they are killing all the germs they touch, but unless the proper amount of “dwell time” is applied, chemicals like chlorine bleach and ammonia are useless. In order to be effective, most bleach manufacturers call for cleaning before applying the bleach then letting the bleach remain on the surface between five and ten minutes. For a contractor, whose profit motive is time sensitive, or for a busy parent having to pick up junior in a few minutes, the likelihood of adhering to those recommendations is low and places your health at risk.
If you hire a contractor who uses chemicals or you do the cleaning yourself, be wary of the following pitfalls when using chemicals to clean:
- Chemicals have a limited time of effectiveness once diluted with water. Bleach, for instance, is only effective for 24-hours after mixing it with water.
- Chemicals kill everything; the good microbes too. When the bad pathogens outnumber the good guys infection occurs.
- Chemicals do not eliminate biofilm. You may have heard of MRSA, CRE or other “superbugs.” Biofilm acts as their lair or incubator. Biofilm itself is a system of microorganisms working together to survive. Over time (several minutes), biofilm develops a relatively hard outer layer which shields its inhabitants from intruders like chemical disinfectants.
- Chemical cleaners’ effectiveness are only fleeting at best. Once chemicals are wiped up or evaporate, they no longer kill microorganisms. Then, the harmful germs make their way from under the biofilm to the battlefield, where plenty of food in the form of dead microorganisms exist. These germs feed, mutate, and grow stronger with each generation. The creation of a superbug is now well under way….
- Chemicals leave behind a trail of negative side effects. Fumes from nasty chemicals can wreak havoc on nervous systems, impair cognitive abilities, and contribute to respiratory issues long after their use.
What should I use?
At home and in my own sanitizing business, we use a combination of steam and probiotics. Yes, I said it…”probiotics.” The steam is a given. With its natural cleaning ability it also sanitizes like no other. Heat destroys all things–even microbes resistant to chemicals or drugs.
The probiotics then work wonders in several ways:
- Probiotics increase the positive microflora in the environment. If the bad germs are outnumbered by the good ones, infection risk plummets.
- Probiotics consume food sources pathogens would normally consume. No food for germs means no survival.
- Probiotics spread out making it difficult for harmful germs to attach to surfaces and colonize; reducing biofilm creation.
- Probiotics protect for several days since they are a living thing.
- Probiotics reduce ATP from pollen, dust mite feces, pet dander, etc. which helps naturally purify the air.
- Probiotics destroy odors at the source and work at the microscopic level.
- Probiotics are natural and organic which means no negative consequences.
- Probiotics are able to communicate with other microorganisms and basically tell them to shut down reproduction. What chemical can talk to bacteria?
I highly recommend purchasing a probiotic cleaner. It will clean better than any chemical on the market without creating superbugs and doesn’t carry a laundry list of warnings.
Much like drug commercials listing a myriad of bad consequences if you take their pill, when it comes to sanitizing, chemical solutions can do you more harm than good. The costs must be weighed and if an effective, healthier alternative exists you may want to consider exploring it.