Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bacteria Trap

If you work in any office you have no doubt have heard the incessant coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and labored breathing. No, that's not my morning workout you hear, but the sound of flu season floating across the office breeze. You also may have noticed that this year's virus seems to be hanging on for weeks, as opposed to the usual 2-5 days. Our receptionist called in sick two days in a row two weeks ago. On my way past her, she had a coughing fit that brought tears to her eyes.

"Same thing?" I asked, ever the sympathetic figure. I think I was careening way away from her when I asked this.

"Yeah, I just can't shake it," was her response.

No doubt you've heard those exact words from someone you know. They just can't kick it, shake it, get rid of it. I used to think it was me and my age catching up to me. No more. Something else is going on and I think I know what. Really, would you expect anything less from me?

Antibacterial soaps and gels are everywhere. We have a pump at our front desk. You can't buy liquid soap without it being antibacterial anymore. Back in the day this was what the doctor's and nurses used while working at the hospital, but since the early to mid 90s, the chemical used in those soaps (Triclosan if you must know) has gone mainstream. Hey, if it's good enough for doctors it's good enough for us.

Now you can get them anywhere. They even sell little pocket sized vials so you can use the gel in a restaurant before eating. My anal retentive brother in law uses it all the time and makes his kids slather it all over their hands, too. 'Why not just wash your hands?' I foolishly asked. 'This kills all sorts of germs soap can't' was the response.

Really? Um, well actually no. A study back in 2002 found no difference between the levels of bacteria on people who use soap and water and those who use the antibacterial soaps and gels. At the time the study brought up the possibility that, if anything, these antibacterial soaps might be potentially more harmful than helpful. Hypothesising that the widespread use of these could create a virus resistant to Triclosan.

If anything it seems to have made the even the most common viruses more potent. I used to shake these things off in a few days. This last 'cold' I got lasted three weeks. Sure, I'm old and decrepit now, but still, three weeks?

Keep in mind that viruses and bacteria are living organisms that have been around millions of years longer than we have. They are highly adaptable and are known for changing their behavior and form in order to survive and thrive. We will never kill off all the bacteria that cause disease. It isn't possible simply because when we develop a chemical or compound to kill off one form, another shows up in it's place. Or it's the same one that's changed to survive the new chemical we've created to kill off it's original. They're little fuckers, is what they are. Eventually (and some think we're seeing it in process) they'll become resistant to Triclosan and then what?

That's not the only problem, either. These antibacterial soaps kill all bacteria. Including the benign bacteria that our immune system uses to train and keep tuned up for the real thing. Now when we get hit with a virus, our system is so out of shape it gets run over by the virus. Think of it like this. The flu is an unknown Buster Douglas and our immune system is Mike Tyson who hasn't been doing much of anything and coasting on his reputation. Down goes Tyson. Take a look at that stomach 'norovirus' that was going around this winter. What usually lasts 24-36 hours was hanging on for 4 days in most cases. Four days of puking. No thanks.

Both the CDC and FDA recommend just using warm water and soap for 10 seconds to prevent spreading disease. They only recommend the antibacterial gels and soaps for use in handling infants or patients with immune deficiency disorders. So why is everyone using them? Why money of course.

In 2005, the FDA announced it's findings that basically reiterated what the 2002 study did: There is no advantage to using these antibacterial soaps. As Alistair Stair said 'There doesn't seem any good reason to buy them' and worried (also like the 2002 study) that over use could result in resistant bacteria. The head of the Soap and Detergent Association responded with 'We believe that the benefit of reducing harmful germs on the skin is apparent'. There's a shock. You want people buying your more expensive products rather than a 99 cent bar of soap that does the same exact thing. I'm stunned!

I must admit I was distracted that there actually is a Soap and Detergent Association. What do you think they're meetings are like? Do they argue about the whether more suds matter? Or the best way to get rid of 'ring around the collar'? Do the Tide people have rumbles with the Era folks? I would love to see something like that scene from 'Anchorman' when the local news teams got into it. Chopping arms off, chains and knives flying around, grenades. I can dream.

Where was I? Oh, right. Stop using those gels will ya. Soap and warm water work just as well and won't help create a superbug that will wipe out half of humanity. And, if it does come to that, be the part that survives because your immune system is ready for it.

I know I'll be standing at the end. Ready to party and take over what's left of the world. I got dibs on San Diego!!

Today's distraction: Play Death Hinge and get some aggressions out. My personal best was 7891 and got me an 'Amazing!' from the game. I know, Death Hinge, I am amazing. Thanks for recognizing that. I find it fun to pretend the guy is someone who annoys me. Since I have a long list of those particular people I keep hitting the Try Again button many times over.

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