A popular trend in hygiene during the past 10 years has been the use of antibacterial hand soap.
Most people use antibacterial hand soap on a daily basis. It can be found in households, hospitals, food establishments and schools. People are concerned with spreading flus and other viruses, so they believe using antibacterial hand soap will kill the “germs.”
However, with a basic understanding of evolution, people would learn antibacterial hand soap could actually be harmful in the long run when it comes to the spreading of germs.
A serious problem is arising with the use of antibacterial hand soap: antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance involves certain types of bacteria becoming immune to antibiotics and thriving in environments even when the antibiotics are present.
Through mutations, bacteria can become resistant to antibiotic effects. As each generation of bacteria is exposed to an antibacterial agent, some individual bacterium mutate and are unaffected by the antibiotic presence.
These bacteria reproduce and are more likely to pass on their resistance to future generations.
Another way bacteria become resistant to antibiotics is through selection. This is the concept of “survival of the fittest.” Selection in an environment with an antibacterial agent favors organisms that are more resistant.
Because these organisms are selected, antibiotic resistance will continue to increase throughout a population of bacteria through generations as long as the antibacterial agent is present.
The major agent that kills bacteria in antibacterial hand soaps is triclosan. Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent that kills a large variety of bacteria. It is able to kill the majority of “germs” that can spread diseases.
However, triclosan is widely used, and government organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not regulate the amount of triclosan in products like antibacterial hand soap.
Overuse of these products is causing selection for antibiotic resistance in bacteria. A recent study tested the implications of triclosan usage and found that long-term exposure to triclosan can increase antibiotic resistance.
It also concluded that there will need to be further research to discover more long-term effects.
The continued use of antibacterial agents, such as antibacterial hand soap, might continue to cause an increase in the frequency of antibiotic resistant bacteria such as multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus in hospitals.
Eventually, this could be a great health concern. If the majority of bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, it will be nearly impossible to treat infectious diseases in the future.
It is our advice that people conservatively use antibacterial hand soaps. Using regular soap instead of antibacterial soap will still clean your hands and will prevent bacteria from forming antibiotic resistance.
Nikki Verkest, Melissa Vermette, Kiley Brothers, Andrea Prentkowski, Katie Cabot, zoology 445 students