What do we do when antibiotics don’t work anymore?
In my profession, I deal with serious bacteria from the sidelines. I’m talking the serious superbugs like MRSA or VRE– the pesky bacteria that could kill a person. As a designer, I must be aware of how I not only layout a space, like a patient room, but be aware of the finishes I’m placing down.
In the healthcare design field, there are plenty of products out there that are gaining traction with “antimicrobial” properties (I use the quotes because I feel there is a lot of work that still needs to be vetted before we, as designers, can feel confident enough to convince our clients that these more expensive products are worth it). Some contain coatings with chemicals and antibacterials, others contain metals (like copper or silver) that inherently kill bacteria, and then there are those that are manufactured to have a micropatterning in which bacteria cannot survive. In our world of design, we strongly consider every product that would get installed on to a project to ensure that we are not harming any of the occupants; whether that be everyday workers in an office, to nurses and patients in a hospital, to even your children at home. Unfortunately, not everything is working.
There is research that estimates roughly 700,000 deaths a year are contributed to antibacterial resistance. This resistance may be from medications, but they may also include the coatings and “inherent” qualities of the products you touch every day – like your kitchen sink. It’s estimated that by 2050, we could hit 12 million deaths a year, and the numbers would keep growing.
Maryn McKenna discusses in her TED Talk how, through the rapid development of synthetic antibiotics, we have hit the fast-forward button on bacterial evolution and the things that used to kill us in the past – like scratching your knee when you fall down – may soon be able to do it again. The regrettable truth is that science can’t keep up with this evolution; bacteria can birth a new generation every 20 minutes, but it takes science 10 years to find a drug/product/chemical to kill it!
So what can we do?
The problem nowadays has been the dependence on chemicals. Lysol this, bleach that, etc. Guess what, although the bacteria may be dying, the chemicals would be doing you and your family some harm as well!
There has been some research done on the use of true essential oils – natural remedies that could help. Basically, every plant has their own genetic makeup, just like people. So, if we were to take Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia, although we could have 2 bottles – both coming from the same company, both harvested the same year – they would be ever-so-slightly, microscopically different. Therefore, bacteria aren’t able to evolve their resistance to it. Could this be a solution?
It’s clear more research needs to be done on all fronts: scientists, researchers, physicians, to help answer how we can protect ourselves not only from the harsh chemicals used to kill bacteria but how to cease the encouragement of superbugs.
McKenna, Maryn. (2015, March). What do we do when antibiotics don’t work any more? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/maryn_mckenna_what_do_we_do_when_antibiotics_don_t_work_any_more?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_content=button__2015-06-25