The stories in the headlines these days about serious life threatening bacterial diseases read like gory sic-fi novels, with no happy ending. Both are man made, one is a novel you can put down; the other turns out to be more scary than truth.


Where did this race of super bacteria come from? We have lived somewhat symbiotically for several millennia with these bugs, so why now have these bacteria become serious killers?


I recall caring for patients that had these kinds of infections, as long as I took the necessary precautions I had nothing to fear. Now we read about a flesh-eating bacterium that infects a scratch and treatment ends up being a disfiguring radical surgery to save the patient’s life.


All of life has its cycles. A particular strain of flu will raise its ugly head, and then fall into a low once again. Forgotten but not gone, just resting until an opportunity presents itself for it to once again flourish. Just as we humans have the ability to evolve and survive, smaller living creatures such as bacteria mutate to survive.


Many disease producing bacteria, not super bugs, live in symbiosis with other more friendly bacteria on our skin, the mucous membranes that line the mouth, nose, throat, and intestines. When this balance is disrupted through illness or drug therapy, we loose more of the friendly bacteria leaving the stronger less friendly bacteria behind to thrive. Most experts want to blame human antibiotic therapy for our demise, and although this in part is true, a much larger part of the picture is the industrialized feedlots of America where every chicken, turkey, hog and cow is injected with antibiotics to prevent stress related illness.


Our response to this threat has been to sterilize everything. We’ve gone nuts for antibacterial everything. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, but we’re taking it a bit too far. Stuart Levy, MD, once Director of the Center For Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston worries that banishing bacteria has become a national obsession. One does not have to look far to prove this theory- drug and grocery store shelves are lined with antibacterial dish soaps, shower gels and laundry detergents. I picked up a box of Q-Tips the other day (and put them back) they too were antibacterial. Give me a break!


Ever notice how dry your skin feels after using some of the antibacterial hand or dish soaps? Yes, indeed you may have killed some bacteria, but you also changed the bacterial flora on your skin. These agents leave the skin very dry, maybe cracked leaving your skin more vulnerable to the very infection you were wanting to prevent.


Recent studies done by Dr. Levy found that riclosan, a chemical found in many antibacterials, target a critical enzyme required for cell-wall formation in E Coli. He feels that these chemicals with targeting mechanisms may prompt bacteria to become more resistant to the very products we are using to kill them.


Your best way to stay safe- use natural based soaps that contain olive or other natural oils such as almond or johoba. Wash, but don’t excessively scrub your skin. Most bacteria cannot resist the heat and friction. The same goes for the kitchen, bathroom and laundry. Bacteria have no ability to mutate against friction and heat. No need to go over board. Just keep things clean.


The next time you are at the store, do yourself and your pocket book a favor. Stick with the less expensive soaps and natural cleansers; they’re your best bet. Till next time, Rebecca