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Fighting microbes is a full-time job

Antimicrobials for polymersFinding and identifying microbes was just phase one. Once these microbes, which are responsible for many infectious diseases that continue to plague mankind, were discovered the next phase was to create methods of neutralizing these insidious ‘germs.’ Thus came the development of penicillin and other anti-bacterial agents (antibiotics) to help us win the fight against microbes and the diseases they caused.Over the 20th Century, it was also discovered that these microbes – which had survived for thousands of years – had the ability to shape-shift and become resistant to many of what were thought to be increasingly more effective antibiotics.

These so-called “super-bugs” that have in recent years migrated out of hospitals (their main stage of activity and growth) into the general populace, have become an even bigger threat.A study conducted by the University of Arizona detailed how illness spreads in an office environment. Researchers enlisted a group of 80 office workers, placing water droplets on the hands of all but one of them. “One person received droplets containing artificial viruses that mimicked the cold, flu and stomach bug. When researchers sampled commonly touched surfaces in the office, as well as the hands of all 80 volunteers, roughly half of the tested surfaces and participants were contaminated with at least one of the viruses.

This translated to a 40-90 percent chance of infection with one of the three viruses by the end of one eight-hour work day. While healthcare settings remain the “frontline” in the fight against microbes, the University of Arizona study and others like it point to “an opportunity to skirmish with pathogens at home and in the office as well.” Although many pathogens are transferred from host to host via air and direct personal contact, the prevalence of microbes on common surfaces and the ease with which these microbes appear to be transferred from person to person on contact indicate a possible need to address microbial activity on a much broader scale.Not only are just these microbes ubiquitous, but plastics and the myriad products made from plastics are ubiquitous as well. Hence, the drive to fight microbes both in the healthcare setting as well as in other public places where people work, shop and recreate, has been the focus of anti-bacterial or anti-microbial additives in plastic materials as a means to prevent the spread of bacteria.Reducing the chances for microbes to develop on the surfaces of hospital and office equipment, shopping cart handles, ATM and other key-pad surfaces – any of the many items that thousands of people touch each day, by adding antimicrobials into the plastic resin itself is a great leap forward in the prevention and spread of bacterial diseases.

These antimicrobial additives for various resins reduce the need to continually spray and wipe down surfaces, which in turn reduces the need for the many chemicals used to make antiseptic and anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners – which have been noted to be one of the causes of the development of “Super-bugs.”Plastics are often derided by those who believe that these synthetic materials are the bane of the environment, yet plastics offer tremendous opportunity to make the environment – and society as a whole – a better place for all of us.

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