War on bacteria could leave drug-resistant strains unchecked

MONDAY, July 17, 2000 -- Atlanta, Ga. -- Efforts to keep our bodies and everything we touch bacteria-free could instead promote the growth of drug-resistant strains, says a Tufts University physician who urges people to abandon their irrational fears and make peace with the beneficial bacteria surrounding us. Not only do most bacteria help keep harmful bacteria in check, they may even give a baby's immune system the exercise it needs to develop normally.

"Dousing everything we touch with antibacterial soaps and taking antibiotic medications at the first sign of a cold can upset the natural balance of microorganisms in and around us, leaving behind only the 'superbugs,'" says Dr. Stuart Levy, a Tufts University School of Medicine physician and microbiologist. "By encouraging this 'unnatural selection' of bacteria that have grown immune to most if not all of today's antibiotics, we unwittingly endanger global health."

Levy's presentation is being made today at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, a meeting organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Society for Microbiology, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the Association of Public Health Laboratories and the CDC Foundation.

Overuse and misuse of bacteria killers leave an open field for opportunistic bacteria that would normally be kept in check by other germs. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria have developed cunning ways to foil even the strongest medications in some cases, says Levy.

He recommends a return to older cleansers that leave no residues, such as alcohol, chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide, as well as time-tested soap and hot water. Strong antibacterial cleansers make sense only when someone in the household is seriously ill or has low immunity, he added. Then, caregivers should wash their hands for at least a minute and leave antibacterial cleansers on kitchen surfaces for minutes, not seconds.


Contact: Jim Sliwa
American Society for Microbiology

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