The Dawn of the domestic superbug
1st July, 2005
The huge popularity of antibacterial household cleaners is encouraging superbugs,
allergies, immune-system failure and dangerous environmental pollution. It’s time to
stop cleaning ourselves to death.
Superbugs don’t just appear out of nowhere. They aren’t invaders from Mars or the result of some mysterious process that science can’t fathom. They’re the consequence of human behaviour, and creating them is fairly easy. Expose bacteria to repeated doses of antibiotics, and they will genetically mutate into more robust and resistant strains. Keep repeating this process, and you will eventually produce a bacterium that no drug will kill. This is how ‘superbugs’ such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other resistant strains of bacteria are created.
Indiscriminate use of antibiotics has received deserved criticism for provoking the rise of hospital superbugs. Less well publicised is the role that domestic antibacterial cleaners play in producing unique strains of resistant bacteria.
Today we use a variety of synthetic antibacterial chemicals, in particular quaternary ammonium compounds and the chlorophenol Triclosan, to keep the bugs at bay. Unlike soap and water, which work efficiently by physically loosening dirt and germs from surfaces and bodies and washing them down the drain, antibacterial chemicals are designed to kill. Worse, Dr...
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