Fighting an invisible enemy
Bar soaps, liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, anti-bacterial sprays, anti-microbial gels…the list goes on. There are countless sanitizing products found in every supermarket and hospital, all designed with a single purpose: killing dangerous germs and protecting your health and the health of those around you.
Unfortunately, in spite of the increased adoption of good infection-control practices and improving preventative measures, dangerous microbes continue to be a persistent and evolving threat. One must look no further than local news reports detailing recalled foods contaminated with salmonella/E. coli, various meningitis outbreaks, and worsening flu seasons to understand that dangerous bacteria and contagions are as active and prevalent as ever.
Part of the solution, or part of the problem?
In most scenarios, liquid soaps, detergents, and disinfectants are the first line of defense used to prevent the spread of infectious bacteria. While these products are generally considered to be effective, there are a multitude of negative factors to take into account.
- Are messy and a hassle to maintain
- Can induce strong allergic reactions
- Come with wasteful packaging
- Can be highly toxic upon contact or ingestion
- Are often corrosive and can damage skin and surfaces
- Can be extremely harmful to the environment
- Are only as thorough as the person applying them
and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In some instances, liquid disinfectants can even strengthen the germs they are designed to kill by spurring on adaptive genetic mutations that increase their resistance!
Deadly emerging “Superbugs” are changing the game
For decades now, the medical field has employed a well-known, prolific technique aimed at combating infection: antibiotics. However, rampant over-prescription and improper drug administration have inadvertently fueled an alarming and pervasive trend: germs are quickly adapting to antibiotics.
Considered to be one of the most potentially devastating phenomena in contemporary medicine, increasing antibiotic resistance has led to the emergence of superbugs, germs which can be completely immune to standard treatment options. As harmful superbugs adapt both naturally and as a result of our own increasingly outdated methods of treatment, we have no choice but to step up to the plate and adopt newer, cutting-edge alternatives to traditional microbiological containment options.
Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs)
Life-threatening microorganisms can thrive in even the most tightly-controlled and seemingly pristine environments. Hospitals and other health-care facilities are prime examples of places where hard-to-kill lurking pathogens can have a devastating economic and human cost, despite the multitude of sanitization techniques and protocols currently in place.
In 2012, over 17 billion dollars was spent treating Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs). HAIs are infections contracted within a health-care facility, an environment that specifically favors the development of certain life-threatening contagions. It is estimated that over 1.7 million HAIs were contracted in the United States in 2010. Furthermore, HAIs cost roughly 100,000 people their lives annually in the US alone.
Shockingly, the majority of HAIs are spread not by equipment found only in hospitals, but by common, everyday items like:
- Cell phones
- Pens and pencils
- ID cards
Clearly, it is not just hospital-specific items that can do the most damage when it comes to spreading infection. With new and evolving microbial threats cropping up regularly, advanced disinfecting techniques are more vital than ever, especially in institutions built to protect those most at risk.
A widespread problem
Though hospitals and health care facilities are of great concern when it comes to ensuring good infection-control practices, the reach of harmful microorganisms extends far beyond these establishments. Many other everyday environments can foster the rapid growth and spread of dangerous microbes and require extra precautions to be taken.
Some of the most common places of concern include:
- Grocery Stores
- Gyms/Training Facilities
- Child Care Facilities
Common dangerous microbes
Perhaps the most well-known of all dangerous bacterial strains due to frequent media coverage of food recalls, E. Coli is typically associated with severe food poisoning resulting from unwashed and undercooked foods contaminated with the bacteria. E. Coli is especially dangerous for young children and the elderly, sometimes proving to be fatal.
There are over 40 species of staph that can be found all over the world, many of which can cause a wide range of severe, even life-threatening, infections. One particularly nasty variant known for causing flesh-eating skin infections and attacking vital organs, MRSA (pictured above), is highly resistant to antibiotics and has been implicated in a number of deadly HAIs.
Known for causing illnesses ranging from food poisoning to typhoid fever (a disease that infects 16 million and kills at least 500,000 people annually), salmonella is a worldwide threat that is communicable between humans and other animals and can survive for weeks without a live host. Alarmingly, evolved strains armed with far greater antibiotic resistance have emerged recently.