We have waged war on all microbes with the overuse of antibiotics and disinfectants. But … if you’re an ecosystem that is made up mostly of microbes, what are you doing to yourself?
Your microbiome helps protect you from opportunistic and pathogenic microbes. Antibiotics seriously compromise that ability by killing large tracts of your microbiome. There are some really nasty bacteria and viruses out there and we need our resident microbes to help protect us. In a Salmonella outbreak in Chicago that affected 160,000 people, it was found that people who had disrupted their resident microbes with antibiotics in the past month were five times more likely to get ill from the Salmonella pathogen.
Bacteria evolve really, really fast. On average, they divide every 10–30 minutes, and each of these divisions is an opportunity for change. As if this were not enough, they have mechanisms for swapping genes and they do so freely. This means that they adapt to new conditions very quickly. So, when we develop antibiotics that target them, they quickly find ways around these poisons. Right now, bacteria have become so efficient at dodging the harmful effects of antibiotics that drug companies are steering clear of developing new anti-bacterial drugs. The drugs they develop are simply not effective for long enough. A new class of antibiotics has not been made available to treat systemic bacterial infections since 1987.
As Jessica Snyder Sachs put it so succinctly in her book Good Germs, Bad Germs, “Since the dawn of civilization, the demon of pestilence has been a part of our lives and fears. Sanitation and antibiotics gave us our first powerful weapons against this great foe. But we have wielded them crudely, without appreciation either for the role that bacteria play in maintaining our health or for their infinite capacity to adapt to whatever poisons we throw at them … The rapid rise of superbugs has been our rude awakening.”
Now is a really good time to keep your microbiome intact. This living armour is your best defence against multi-drug-resistant bacteria. So yes, there are some bad microbes, but you don’t necessarily improve your chances by initiating a war, so think ecologically. Only disinfect when someone is really ill.