Excessive Hygiene and Antibiotic Resistance

03 August, 2020
A recent study linked excessive hygiene with an increased viral and bacterial resistance to medications. Learn all about excessive hygiene and antibiotic resistance here!

Did you know that the number of people who become seriously ill and even die from antibiotic resistance is increasing every year all around the world? In this article, we tell you how excessive hygiene influences this problem.

Excessive hygiene and antibiotic resistance

A woman cleaning a table.
Excessive personal and household cleaning could affect people’s immune systems.

Before delving directly into this topic, it’s important for us to explain exactly what excessive hygiene is. The truth is that this term is difficult to define. However, in general, the following is considered an excess of personal hygiene:

This could make your immune system lose its functionality. In other words, your skin may lose its protective barrier and be exposed to all kinds of bacteria.

But what about household hygiene? Constantly cleaning with the same products could make pathogens become used to them. As a result, they could develop a resistance to them.

This article may interest you: Why You Shouldn’t Self-Medicate with Antibiotics

What’s antibiotic resistance?

Some pills on a table.
Taking antibiotics without a prescription can increase your resistance to them.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when these drugs stop acting against microorganisms. In other words, the pathogens “get used to” them.

Generally, this situation occurs due to the routine use of antibiotics (and even abuse of them). Somehow, bacteria lose their sensitivity. Thus, to fight them, it becomes necessary to resort to increasingly aggressive substances.

In recent years, microorganism mutations that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics have emerged. For example, in 2016, the newspaper El País published the story of a woman in the United States who suffered from the strongest antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infection ever.

The United Kingdom’s Department of Health and Social Care commissioned an analysis of antibiotic resistance. This analysis, known as the “Review on Antimicrobial Resistance”, was completed in two years. We can extract some interesting data from it:

  1. Firstly, drug-resistant infections are already on the rise.
  2. About 50,000 people die each year in Europe and the United States from antibiotic-resistant infections.
  3. At least 700,000 die each year of drug resistance in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS, or tuberculosis.
  4. Finally, this problem would complicate routine surgeries and minor infections in the long term.

In this article, we explained that antibiotic resistance is a very worrying public health problem. But what’s its relationship with excessive hygiene?

Read on to learn more: Antibiotics: Some of the Inherent Risks

The relationship between excessive hygiene and antibiotic resistance

A sick man in bed due to antibiotic resistance.
Research has suggested that excessive cleaning increases pathogens’ resistance to antibiotics.

A study carried out at the Graz University of Technology in Austria compared the microorganisms and the antibiotic resistance that existed in the Intensive Care Unit of the University Hospital Graz. The conclusions were striking:

  • Microbial diversity decreases in areas with high levels of hygiene, while the diversity of resistance increases.

Simply speaking, excessive hygiene could be counterproductive. The study mentioned above advocates a stable microbial diversity in clinical areas to counteract the spread of resistances. Now, how could this stability be achieved?

Experts suggest that, instead of using a lot of cleaning agents, it’s a good idea to have indoor plants. Also, they recommend regularly airing out spaces. This is because it would improve bacterial diversity while avoiding the development of resistance to cleaning products.

Regarding antibiotics, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends people to avoid taking antibiotics that aren’t prescribed by a doctor and requesting medications when they don’t need them. Conversely, they recommend hand washing as the main way to avoid infections.

But it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t excessively wash your hands to avoid eliminating protective skin barriers and making yourself more vulnerable. The same goes for household cleaning.

In short, keep your home clean but don’t overdo it! The presence of some bacteria helps keep your immune system strong and healthy in the long term.

  • Review Antimicrobial Resistance. https://amr-review.org/
  • Alexander Mahnert, Christine Moissl-Eichinger, Markus Zojer, David Bogumil, Itzhak Mizrahi, Thomas Rattei, José Luis Martinez, Gabriele Berg. Man-made microbial resistances in built environments. Nature Communications, 2019; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-08864-0
  • Graz University of Technology. (2019, March 12). Excessive hygiene promotes resistance to antibiotics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190312123701.htm
  • OMS. (2018). Resistencia a los antibióticos. https://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/resistencia-a-los-antibi%C3%B3ticos