The Perils of Anti-Bacterial Wipes

Did you ever think that the modern mania for using anti-bacterial soaps and wipes everywhere was unhealthy? I remember years ago reading magazine stories about Howard Hughes being such a crazy nut that he washed obsessively with anti-bacterial soap and never picked up anything directly, instead using a kleenex. Now Howard Hughes’ obvious neurosis has become standard behavior at any place where mothers or even fathers congregate with their children. Like Seinfeld, Hughes probably wouldn’t touch the doorknob with his hand on the way out of a bathroom either.

There is a real problem with this neurotic approach to absolute cleanliness.

It turns out that anti-bacterial wipes are typically used in hospitals and elsewhere to wipe several distinct surfaces. For instance the same wipe would be used on a bedrail, two tabletops, and a chair. The anti-bacterial substance kills ordinary bacteria but does not kill antibiotic resistant organisms and in fact spreads them. So hospitals end up being havens of antibiotic resistant bacteria ready to infect the first patient to come along with an open wound or a weakened immune system.

And they are used the same way in homes.

It is safer to use an ordinary washcloth to clean surfaces than an anti-bacterial wipe, or a washcloth with anti-bacterial soap. Non-resistant bacteria at least provide some competition to resistant bacteria, reducing the proportion (and thus the total number after some time for reproduction is allowed) of super-bugs in the hospital suite or the home.

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