Current hygiene practices increase our contraction of infectious disease. We have all seen the signs on the bathroom door or next to the sink that reads “employees must wash hands.” This signifies that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recognizes the importance of washing your hands after using the restroom. If this sign is abided by, customers are put at ease when eating at their favorite restaurant or buying muffins from their local baker. Customers can be rest assured that they are not going to contract some vile food bourn illness that will knock them out of commission for days. We forget about the dish rag that has been used all day to wipe the counters, or the bench seats at the diner that haven’t been cleaned properly. There is a growing need to address the way we clean and the products we use to clean. This extends to the antibiotics we take to “clean” our bodies and the antibiotics we use to treat the animals we eat.
The invention of penicillin awarded Alexander Fleming the noble prize. Fleming warned during his acceptance speech that the overuse of antibiotics would lead to a decline in their effectiveness. This overuse happens when bacteria evolve to have stronger defenses against certain antibiotics. The overuse is dangerous because as we take more antibiotics, bacteria are getting stronger and more likely to have a defense against the very thing meant to kill them. Today we are seeing an increased awareness to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Immuno-compromised persons are at an increased risk due to their susceptibility to bacterial infection. This population consists of elderly and children as well as any person with an existing condition that would weaken their bodies ability to fight infection. Compounding these issues are those of improper hygiene among people that service these immune-compromised people.
According to The American Journal of Infection Control we should be taking a “risk-based approach” to hygiene. Knowing which cleaning products to use and when to use them is crucial to appropriate hygiene. Author, Sally F. Bloomfield says, “detergent-based cleaning can be used to break the chain of infection, in some cases an antimicrobial agent is required,” in an article titled, A Risk Assessment Approach to use of Antimicrobials in the Home to Prevent Spread of Infection. At one time the idea of using an antimicrobial agent in the home was unnecessary but with a growing immune-compromised populations that is receiving similar care in home as they once saw in a hospital it is becoming more crucial.This crucial step breaks the chain of the bacteria and allows for the person in contact with a once infected surface to know be safe from any bacterial infection. In addition to this step being crucial for the reduction of an infection, it also limits the use of antibiotics to treat an infection. By limiting the use of the antibiotics, we see a reduction in the risk for antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
Along with direct use of antibiotics in humans for treatment, the United States meat industry began using antibiotics both as a tool to keep animals from getting sick and as a tool to aid in weight gain. This practice is adding to the inappropriate hygiene practices. Maryn Mckenna writes in an article titled Drugs: gut response?, that “By saturating the environment with antibiotic residues, Blaser argues, we have effectively recreated that weight-gain programme in humans — and the result has been the seemingly unstoppable increase in obesity, especially in children.” This article is from the International Journal of Science. Mckenna is reviewing an article written by Martin J. Blaser on how the overuse of antibiotics is “Fueling our modern plagues”. Essentially, we are contaminating our food now with a product that was meant to treat infection. In doing so we are seeing a similar response in humans that these farmers see in their animals such as weight gain. Weight gain has many health repercussions on its own and now add to that the use of the antibiotics effecting efficiency when a person is ill. On top of the now sometimes inefficient antibiotics, Blaser discusses the idea that the overuse of antibiotics is destroying healthy benign bacteria that are necessary for normal, healthy, human function.
It appears that we are at a boiling point. With things like resistant bacteria and a growing immune-compromised population it is crucial that we begin to make strides in practicing appropriate hygiene. Don’t let that sign in the bathroom fool you. Just washing your hands is not enough. Appropriate hygiene goes beyond hand-washing.