In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic (CoVid-19) I wanted to bring back an old post related to bacteria and the dangers we face to heal the sick that may actually be aiding in the evolution of the bacteria we are trying to get rid of. This post was based on the TED talk “What do we do when antibiotics don’t work anymore?” back in 2015.
What do we do when antibiotics don't work anymore?
In my profession, as a healthcare interior designer, I can deal with serious bacteria. I’m talking the serious super bugs 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 to help mitigate the amount of bacteria growth.
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 with 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 every-so-slightly, microscopically different. Therefore, bacteria aren’t able to evolve their resistance to it.