Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare professionals have advised people about best hygiene practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection and other pathogens. Purchases of hand sanitizers, disinfectants and other cleaning products have risen drastically as a result of such advice, and you’ve probably used more of the stuff in the past year than ever before. Unfortunately, the overuse of some of these germ-killing sanitizers is contributing to another looming crisis—the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs and superbugs.
Microbes and Antimicrobial Resistance
Each of us shares our air, food, water and living space with invisible clusters of microorganisms that include viruses, bacteria and fungi. While most of these minuscule microbes are beneficial or harmless, some are pathogens—the kind that can make you sick, such as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The medicines that treat infections caused by such pathogens are commonly referred to as antimicrobials.
Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to the medicines used against them, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. become known as superbugs. As a result of drug resistance, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or impossible to treat. According to a 2019 CDC report, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. Without aggressive action, the World Bank estimates that by 2050, the global death toll as a result of AMR could be as high as 10 million.
Sanitizers and Antimicrobial Resistance
Our COVID-19 cleanliness craze has raised concerns about how much our germ-fighting methods may contribute to AMR. According to research cited by the CDC regarding sanitizer use, alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not contribute to antibiotic resistance. Other products marketed as antibacterial, especially those containing triclosan and triclocarban, have been banned by the FDA because they are no more effective than plain soap and may have long term adverse effects. Emerging research also points toward certain bacteria growing more tolerant of alcohol in certain sanitizers, which is an alarming trend when the uptick in sanitizer use is taken into account.
The Importance of Proper Sanitization
The best tool in your arsenal to fight the spread of germs is good hygiene. Washing your hands with plain soap and water, using FDA-approved sanitizers around your home or business, and having a strategy in place to respond to potential exposure to COVID-19 or other diseases, should all be a part of an informed hygiene plan.