Top Five: every day things we do that contribute to antimicrobial resistance
Graduate student Carmine Slipski is a 2018 3MT finalist and People’s Choice winner. He studies antimicrobial resistance.
We asked Slipski to share his ‘Top Five’ for this new UM Today column. Here are his top five every day things we most often do that contribute to antimicrobial resistance.
1. Eat meat products raised with antimicrobials. – 80% of all antimicrobial usage in Canada is in farming and livestock, due to the exposure to antimicrobials from birth, many of the bacterial organisms that colonize these animals end up acquiring resistance genes to those antimicrobials used. By eating these products we too can acquire resistance genes so that the bacteria that colonize us can gain resistance and this can become a problem when we acquire pathogenic infections that require antimicrobial treatment, as the saying goes “we are what we eat”.
2. Abuse therapeutic antimicrobials such as antibiotics. We have all had a tickle in our throat or felt under the weather and have had to go to the doctors office. Many times our infections are viral, which antibiotics have no efficacy in treating, and doctors still have no easy way to tell if an infection is bacterial or viral, so many times antibiotics are demanded or prescribed unnecessarily. Also, when patients are prescribed antibiotics for a specific period of time, they stop taking them early when they feel better, but it is very important to finish the full course of treatment as given by doctors as these are specific to each drug/patient and are required to eliminate infection. When a course of antibiotics is stopped early a few of the infecting bacteria can remain and come back stronger with a newly acquired resistance to that antimicrobial drug making it far more difficult to treat now.
3. Buy and use handsoap containing added antimicrobials. Hand washing is a very important practice in reducing the spread of infections, especially during cold/flu season, but companies who make soap have taken advantage of this practice, and in order to get an edge over competition and to make people feel even more sanitary they add antimicrobial compounds so they can proclaim “kills 99.99% of germs” or “antibacterial/antimicrobial” on their labels. The truth is these antimicrobial compounds have no added benefit in hand soap, but also have no effect on viruses, and plain old soap is extremely effective at removing bacteria and virus from your hands without added chemicals. The more we add these unnecessary compounds to our soaps the more we expose bacteria to them and help them acquire even more resistance to these antimicrobials making them ineffective for when we really need them. The FDA in the United States recognized this fact and banned several antimicrobials including Triclosan from hand soap, but in Canada we are still far behind, and continue to allow these antimicrobials to be added to our soap products. Alcohol hand sanitizers are a great alternative to antimicrobial hand soaps, and do not add to the burden of antimicrobial resistance.
4. Buy and use household cleaners containing added antimicrobials. Another area where antimicrobial compounds have been added with no benefit are in household cleaners. Many of the chemicals we use such as bleach are very effective at killing pathogenic organisms. More recently however, there has been a fear of using “too many chemicals” in our households such as ammonia or bleach driving companies to create “chemical free” or “bleach free” cleaners, which is funny because in place of those chemicals they add even more potent antimicrobial chemicals for the killing action against microorganisms. In this case, the old fashioned cleaners without antimicrobials are safe to use, and just as effective at reducing pathogenic microorganisms in our house, without adding to the burden of antimicrobial resistance.
5. Buy and use everyday products such as makeup and fabric softener containing unnecessary antimicrobials. Manufacturers add antimicrobials to products unnecessarily in order to extend shelf life, but also to make consumers feel safer about the products they are using. Many times, such as in day to day products, these antimicrobials have no added benefit to the consumer, and only serve the company producing them for marketing and longevity of their product. The abuse of antimicrobials in these consumer products drives resistance because microorganisms are constantly being exposed to these compounds on a daily basis, and this drives acquisition of resistance genes, so that in times when we are sick or have an infection certain antimicrobials are no longer effective.
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