Throw your soap away right now

Dean of biology department speaks about MRSA

By: Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman

Posted: 7/24/08

Bacteria are good. What is bad are the inappropriate use of antibiotics and the overabundance of dangerous antibacterial soaps. In fact, one of the best things you can do for your health is to throw your antibacterial soaps away and never use them again. Failure to do so could lead to a serious infection; even death.

"It's horrible," said Dr. Michael Hudson, of the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, Tryclosan.

Hudson, the dean of UNC Charlotte's biology department and 26-year student of a bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus, uses Ivory soap in his microbiology lab and at home. He urges everyone to make sure the soaps they use don't say "antibacterial" on their labels because, though Tryclosan does kill bacteria, it doesn't kill all bacteria.

"Bacteria is good," said Hudson, who has a healthy respect for the organisms. "Leave them alone."

Humans are teeming with bacteria, according to Hudson, who says humans are composed of approximately one trillion human cells and 100 trillion bacteria cells - making us more bacteria than human. "Most of the 100 trillion are not capable of causing disease," said Hudson. "They compete with each other - they keep each other in check."

But, some bacteria not only cause disease, they kill. The problem with antibacterial soaps, and the misuse of antibiotics, is that they throw the body's bacteria-balance out of whack when they kill some and leave others to become strong and, eventually, resistant to treatment.

"We use antibiotics inappropriately in a number of different ways," said Hudson. As with antibacterial soaps, he said. "Antibiotics kill many bacteria, but the oddballs grow."

There are hundreds of strains of the staph bacteria Hudson studies, including Community Acquired Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as CA-MRSA. A particularly deadly strain of CA-MRSA killed a physician's assistant at a nearby hospital two months ago. Hudson has a sample of that strain in his lab stored in suspended animation, along with hundreds of others.

"If you run into the [CA-MRSA] strain in my lab," said Hudson on a recent Charlotte Talks broadcast, "you will die. There is nothing left to treat it. The worst problem facing humans on the planet is antibacterial resistance, because we'll be back to the 1930s," said Hudson during the radio show. "Pretty soon treatment will be amputation."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 19,000 Americans die from CA-MRSA, and nearly 100,000 are infected annually. According to Hudson, that trend is on the rise.

"It can survive on dry surfaces without water for long periods of time," said Hudson. He also said the bacteria lives on our skin, is spread easily between humans, and can live for long periods of time on surfaces we touch.

Hudson, who practically lives on campus, works nearly 12-hour days seven days per week. His office is organized and efficient. A small refrigerator and microwave help keep him fed. The entire collection of UNC Charlotte basketball bobbleheads and a large reproduction of a $250,000 award check for the development of a soy-based bioweapon vaccine overlook his desk. Constantly interrupted during normal business hours, he does most of his research at night or on the weekends.

"I know an incredible amount about a very small corner of the universe," he said. Thankfully, he is willing to share his knowledge.

To avoid becoming infected by MRSA, Dr. Hudson suggests:

Hudson has been a guest on Mike Collins' radio show, Charlotte Talks, twice, and once on Collins' television show, Charlotte Now, in the past month. You can listen to the broadcasts online at WFAE and Charlotte Now.

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