Sunday, October 2, 2011

To wash or not to wash

How many of you wash your hands after you go to the bathroom?  How about when you have touched uncooked or old food?  Those sound like logical times to wash your hands in order to prevent disease.  Washing your hands after using the bathroom is a sanitary measure that prevents staph infections.  Washing your hands after handling raw chicken prevents the threat getting infected with bacteria like e. coli.

What about all the other times that you wash your hands?  Perhaps when your hands are physically dirty (actual soil) you might thoroughly wash your hands, but is an antibacterial hand soap necessary?  Or is it more practical to use plain old irish spring, dove, or any other brand of soap.  Then of course there is the newer fad of using antibacterial gel every time you touch another person or public facility or anytime at all really.  

My point is this: what constitutes a good use of such devices and a bad one?  Is using so much antibacterial formulas in our everyday life really going to help prevent disease?  Or is it just going to make the bulk of the human population that much more indefensible to any serious threat?  

These questions are ones that you should be asking yourself when you are at the grocery store deciding between a lemon scented dishwashing soap, an orange, or an apple one.  One soap is completely free of any additives.  One "Kills 99% of all bacteria."  The third has both antibacterial agents and antiviral ones.  The soaps with additives may help prevent the threat of your family getting some stomach bug, but then again if you were using hot water this would have been prevented anyway.  The other will simply clean the dishes, preventing the over-growth of any bacteria or fungi due to remaining food particles.  I see the former as unnecessary and something that will eventually harm the entirety of the population, where the latter is just good hygiene. The trouble is seeing where the line divides the two.  

The harming of the population as whole will not just be the destruction of the good bacteria that normally inhabit our bodies both inside and out, but a more serious problem.  Not only are our bodies now more defenseless because of the destruction of the helpful and preventative populations, but the harmful bacteria (and now in some case viruses) have been continually exposed so that they can mutate in order to survive both the antibacterial agents and any normal bacterial defenses that your body has.  One good example of a creation of a more dangerous bacterial infection is MRSA.  This infection is resistant to antibacterial agents and to antibiotics.  

The real question lies in asking if the scientists that created this stuff really did not think about the ramifications of their work.  The scary answer is if they did.

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