To clean, or not to clean - that is the question! I was reading a conversation on this topic, and found the reactions interesting.
Should you use germ killing disinfectants? Should you use it on every surface? Should you not use any? Will using disinfectants make antibiotic resistant superbugs and cause us to get even more sick?
Great questions to which there is a wide array of answers, depending on whom you ask. Here's the one that most people tend to get wrong: Alcohol based disinfectant cleaners do not selectively favor or promote antibiotic resistant bacteria or viruses. The reason for this is because they do not contain antibiotics. While there are some antibacterial cleaners that do contain antibiotic agents, disinfectants are on the same playing field as using bleach. Neither promotes antibiotic resistant superbugs. Disinfectant products, like your hand sanitizers and disinfectant sprays like Lysol, usually contain some form of alcohol. The alcohol is like a flame-thrower, it doesn't care what your genetic makeup is - if you're an exposed germ, ye shall be destroyed. Thusly, disinfectant cleaners are not genetically selecting resistant strains; they are indiscriminate in their carnage. This also means they’re killing off your normal skin flora - the millions of bacteria, spanning thousands of species, existing all over your body all the time - some good, and some potentially bad.
This is why medical staff use disinfectant hand cleansers between every patient contact. This also raises the next question: Why then is there an outbreak of antibiotic resistant superbugs plaguing hospitals? It is not because they are cleaning their hands with disinfectant cleansers, it's exactly the opposite. It's because many people do not clean their hands thoroughly enough, even when in an area devoted to sick people. Antibiotic resistance comes from using antibiotics improperly (not completing the full prescription). When you take an antibiotic, you're selectively killing off bacteria through the use of an agent that inhibits the normal operational mechanics of the bacteria, causing a reduction in their ability to divide and colonize in high quantities, which then gives your immune system an "easy job" of cleaning up the remaining population of bad guys. The problem is that through a simple genetic mutation, a random swapping and mixing of nucleotides, that naturally occurs during division, a germ can gain the ability to raise a shield against the sword-slinging antibiotic. In just a few short hours, after this simple genetic change, this new superbug can divide and populate unhindered. This is especially true if you don't complete the full prescription.
Now, think about someone who just so happens to be sick, and it turns out they are sick with a bug that is in fact resistant to one or more antibiotics. They will cough and touch many surfaces throughout the day, and quite easily spread the superbug. However, had this person, and everyone around them, been using alcohol based hand santizers, the chance of superbug survival and propagation greatly diminishes.
So, disinfectant cleansers are very good products to use. Now, here comes the 'but', because there's a gotcha here. Remember that disinfectants (alcohol based) are indiscriminate killers. This means that your normal skin flora will be greatly affected as well. A good bit of your skin flora can actually protect you from pathogenic germs, either through secretions or by simply outnumbering the competition. More importantly, by just being exposed to small amounts of bad bacteria is great for your immune system. Exposure to germs trains your body how to actually fight future infections, making you far less likely to get noticeably sick in the future. We're actually 'sick' all the time, fighting off bacteria somewhere in and on our bodies. To what degree you get sick depends on your ability to fight back. Your ability to fight back comes from training through exposure. So, getting sick is a good thing.
There is actually a good middle-of-the-road approach. You want to minimize the quantity of pathogens around you, but you also don't want to be forced to live in a sterile environment by pretending you will be forever shielded from all microscopic germs (fantasy land). The solution is to feel perfectly free to clean the worst culprits for germ growth, which starts with cleaning your hands, and using antibacterial cleansers on your hands (the alcohol gel sanitizers are great). From there, you can disinfect a couple other hot-spots; your computer keyboard, doorknobs/handles, and your kitchen sink. Everything else can be cleaned normally with some soapy water. This will knock out the big offenders (your hands being the number one offender), and still leave the rest of your world in a relative mutual relationship with the invisible - the life forms that wake up with us, go to work with us, sleep with us, live with us, and live in us.
The trick is to avoid antibiotics, if it can be avoided, but also promote hand sanitizers. Given the ever-increasing prevalence of computer keyboard users, touching them every single day, I highly recommend cleansing your keyboard at least once a week. And, if you tend to eat in the living room while watching TV, think about your remote control, and then touch your food. :)