As more and more people identify as germaphobes, disinfecting products have been flying off the shelves. Bath and body stores now sell scented hand sanitizers in spunky packaging that promise to “kill 99.99% of all germs!”
These colorful accessories dangle from the backpacks of middle schoolers and line the desks of cubicles―but are they really doing us any good?
New research shows that alcohol-based disinfectants are being overused, leading to mutations in bad bacteria. Strains like Enterococcus faecium have evolved to become resistant to these alcohol-based sanitizers, leading to serious illness in certain patients.
Not only is E. faecium able to spread more easily since it is resistant to most forms of sterilization, but its resistance also allows it to take hold in the gut more easily. Here it can procreate quickly and cause lethal infections in the body.
Bacteria like E. faecium and C. difficile are notorious in causing infections in the abdomen, skin, and urinary tract. Particularly alarming is its frequency in causing sepsis, an infection of the blood that is often a silent but lethal killer of patients in hospitals.
After reading this, it may be tempting to get rid of all the hand sanitizer you own, but this isn’t recommended. Only a few strains are turning into “superbugs” and the odds you encounter one are pretty slim.
You and your family should still cleanse your hands as usual to fend off the germs you encounter on a daily basis. But be careful of overusing these products. There is, however, more you can do to prevent these superbugs from colonizing your gut.
The best way to arm yourself against these harmful bacteria is by taking a probiotic. Probiotics will colonize your gut and prevent bad bacteria from multiplying, along with boosting your immune response to kill them at the source.
Strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus are best known to keep bad bacteria at bay, but taking a probiotic supplement with measured amounts of different strains is most effective.
Further research is still being conducted on bacterial resistance and antibiotics (particularly in hospitals, where resistances build quickly) so there is no immediate need for alarm.
But to diminish the odds of your gut being invaded by these harmful robust bacteria, take probiotics regularly to ensure your body is protected from infection.
So next time you throw a new bottle of hand sanitizer into your purse for the day, remember to take your probiotics along as well.
Mirovic, Veljko. “Antibiotic Resistance of Hospital Strains of Enterococcus Faecalis and Enterococcus Faecium.” Vojnosanitetski Pregled, vol. 59, no. 5, 2002, pp. 499–506., doi:10.2298/vsp0205499m.