Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
QUESTION: I heard that hand sanitizers are losing their ability to fend off hospital germs.
What are we supposed to do now?
— Arthur S., Detroit
ANSWER: Hand sanitizers still are very effective against MRSA and other hospital-frequenting bugs, so keep using them every time you go into and out of a hospital room. But there’s no reason not to rely on good old-fashioned soap and water, in the hospital and out in the world at large.
The report you’re referring to came from an Australian study that found the bacteria E. faecium (which are already resistant to some antibiotics) are getting better at withstanding alcohol-based hand sanitizer. That’s concerning, because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people a year in the U.S. are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 die from those infections. Untold others die from other conditions made worse by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
Each of you plays a role in helping to reduce the growing problem by not taking antibiotics for viral infections or for bacterial infections that would resolve safely by themselves — and now by not using hand sanitizer as your first, impulsive way to stay clean. Also, avoid eating animal products that are treated with antibiotics — 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in raising livestock.
Fortunately, there’s interesting news about the possible development of new, more resistance-proof antibiotics. A recent Swiss study has identified a group of potential antibiotics from a weed called thale cress. The Swiss researchers found more than 200 species of bacteria living on this Swiss weed’s flowers and leaves, with hundreds of molecular interactions between the different strains.
That bacterial hub works a bit like your gut biome: Good bacteria (both on the leaves and in your intestines) are able to muscle out bad ones (like harmful strains of E. coli in your gut). One strain in particular called macrobrevin seemed like the best candidate. The next step is to see if it can stop the growth of bad bacteria that cause disease in humans.