When you walk into the cleaning or household aisle of your nearby grocery store, you’re likely confronted with row upon row of antibacterial cleaning products. If you look into a woman’s purse or on a teacher’s desk, you’re likely to find a small bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer. If you work in a large office or food service venue, antibacterial foams, soaps, and sanitizers can be found in dispensers on walls and near sinks.
On the other hand, the news is full of stories about the dangers of overusing or misusing antibiotics, including the rising trend in antibiotic-resistant diseases. Friends may warn you that using too many antibacterial products in your home could prevent your children from developing strong, healthy immune systems. Doctors often seem to be reluctant to prescribe antibiotics, and when they do prescribe them, they give stern warnings about completing the recommended number of doses. Finally, environmentalists and others object to the prophylactic use of antibiotics on healthy livestock because of the possible secondary effect on human consumers.
As a concerned parent, what should you do? Two separate but strongly interconnected issues must be examined in order to answer that question: the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the development of the human immune system.