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AuthorTopic:   War On Bacteria Could Leave Drug-Resistant Strains Unchecked
posted February 15, 2002 10:24am
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War On Bacteria Could Leave Drug-Resistant Strains Unchecked

Efforts to keep our bodies and everything we touch bacteria-free could
instead promote the growth of drug-resistant strains says a Tufts
University physician who urges people to abandon their irrational fears
and make peace with the beneficial bacteria surrounding us. Not only do
most bacteria help keep harmful bacteria in check they may even give a
baby's immune system the exercise it needs to develop normally.

"Dousing everything we touch with antibacterial soaps and taking
antibiotic medications at the first sign of a cold can upset the
natural balance of microorganisms in and around us leaving behind only
the 'superbugs'" says Dr. Stuart Levy a Tufts University School of
Medicine physician and microbiologist. "By encouraging this 'unnatural
selection' of bacteria that have grown immune to most if not all of
today's antibiotics we unwittingly endanger global health." Levy's
presentation is being made today at the International Conference on
Emerging Infectious Diseases a meeting organized by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention the American Society for Microbiology
the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists the Association
of Public Health Laboratories and the CDC Foundation.

Overuse and misuse of bacteria killers leave an open field for
opportunistic bacteria that would normally be kept in check by other
germs. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria have developed cunning ways
to foil even the strongest medications in some cases says Levy. He
recommends a return to older cleansers that leave no residues such as
alcohol chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide as well as time-tested
soap and hot water. Strong antibacterial cleansers make sense only when
someone in the household is seriously ill or has low immunity he
added. Then caregivers should wash their hands for at least a minute
and leave antibacterial cleansers on kitchen surfaces for minutes not

Not only is exposure to bacteria generally harmless it is essential
for the normal development of a baby's immune system. According to a
recent Italian study a baby during its first year must be exposed to
germs in order to develop antibodies necessary to fight dangerous
infections later in life. If the baby's environment is too clean the
production of T-helper 1 cells is not adequately stimulated and the
immune system overproduces T-helper 2 cells which in turn make
antibodies to fight allergens. That imbalance of T-helper cells could
result in lifelong allergies or asthma.

"Just as a child needs lots of exercise to develop strong bones and
muscles a child's immune system needs a rigorous workout to develop
normal resistance to infections throughout life" says Levy who also
directs the Tuft's Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance.
The center focuses on finding solutions to the problem of antibiotic

Infectious diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide and the
third leading cause of death in the United States following heart
disease and strokes. Because many bacteria have learned to evade some
or all of the 100 or so antibiotics developed in the last 60 years to
fight them deaths from infectious diseases like tuberculosis are once
again on the rise. So concerned are leaders of the World Health
Organization American College of Physicians the American Medical
Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
that they recently named antibiotic resistance as one of the top public
health concerns of this decade.

"In the United States we now have at least five organisms with strains
that are resistant to all antibiotics that are available including the
drug vancomycin which has been considered to be the last line of
defense against drug-resistant infections" he says. "New antibiotic
development lags several years behind the need so there is no magic
bullet around the corner. If we are to avert a crisis people need to
stop and think twice before using fortified cleansers and pressuring
their doctors to give them antibiotics for every infection."

A truce with harmless bacteria is a good first step toward a solution.
"Bacteria are a natural and needed part of life" says Levy. "Most live
blamelessly. In fact they often protect us from disease because they
compete with and thus limit the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria.
The benign competitors can be important allies in the fight against
antibiotic-resistant pathogens."

Igor Kononenko email:

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