Antibiotic Resistance & Hand Hygiene
What is antibiotic resistance?
Do you know what condition affects over 2.8 million people in the US, and kills more than 35,000 every year? It’s the body's response to a serious infection, a.k.a. sepsis. Sepsis occurs when the bacterial or fungal infection affecting one part of the body makes it into the bloodstream and spread throughout. While bloodborne bacteria and fungi are dangerous, the statistic mentioned above is even unnerving because those 2.8 million infections are antibiotic-resistant strands.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when a bacterial or fungal strand undergoes a genetic change or receives resistant information causing the medicine to no longer be effective against the bacteria or fungi that it was designed to kill. To date, the CDC reports 18 antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi (report does not list viruses or parasites). Resistance to medicines can happen rather quickly. Penicillin, for example, was released in 1941, but a penicillin-resistant strand of Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) was identified as early as 1942. Azithromycin enjoyed over 30 years of bacterial dominance before Azithromycin-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae was identified in 2007. Scientists are finding that the few antibiotics developed in the last decade encountered even faster resistance. Rather than years of effectiveness, in 2015, a strand of Klebsiella pneumoniae developed resistance to a new antibiotic almost overnight.
Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?
If the CDC concludes that up to 80% of germs are transmitted via hands, it only makes sense that the most effective way to avoid the occurrence of bacteria, viruses, or fungi entering your bloodstream is to reduce the risk while it is still on the skin. In topical applications, alcohol, (at concentrations of at least 60%) is effective against antibiotic-resistant strands such as MRSA, MRSE, and VRE. And talk about a proven track record: chlorhexidine is still effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms, even with over 60 years of use in the healthcare, veterinary science, dental and cosmetic industries.
At the microbial level of skin and surfaces, alcohol and chlorhexidine can annihilate the vast majority of threats within seconds. This combo is literally killin' it.
It is up to us, fellow humans, to practice antibiotic stewardship. We should know our risks and take care of ourselves if we have a chronic illness. Let’s wash our hands, stay up to date on vaccines and be vigilant about signs and symptoms of infection. We should use antibiotics only when needed and for the duration of the prescription. We can protect ourselves by checking for health alerts when traveling abroad and do I even need to mention STDs? Let’s use common sense around our pets and practice safe preparation and storage of our food. And, seriously, we should keep our hands clean.
WHY is everyone so adamant about hand hygiene and what does it have to do with antibiotic resistance?
Our body is teeming with bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Most of the time it functions as a happy little petri dish, with maybe some organisms benefitting more than others. The skin barrier does a fantastic job of protecting our vital organs from pathogenic microbes. But when dry air and well, frequent handwashing, compromises that protective layer, when 80% of those unseen threats could be bumming a ride under your fingernails, and when we are one cut, scratch, or scrape away from a microbial nightmare, eliminating the threat on the surface by using a hand cleanser that provides long-lasting, moisturizing protection seems like a pretty safe and simple option.