Antibacterial hand sanitizers are springing up everywhere. In grocery stores and department stores, in purse size containers. In the home, seventy five percent of liquid soaps contain antibacterial compounds. And what do health experts have to say about this. They say anti bacterial soaps are no more effective than plain old soap and water.
“Handwashing, using plain soap and water, is still the most important way to reduce the spread of germs,” says Dr. Joanne Embree, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Winnipeg and chair of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee. “Wash your hands after you cough or sneeze, and after being in contact with someone who has a cold or the flu.” Colds and flus are viruses, not bacteria, so antibacterial agents have no effect on them.
The growing use of antibacterial soaps and
cleaners are a sign of good advertising gimmicks, not good health. There’s no
evidence that antibacterial soaps and other products prevent disease in the
home. Who says so? The Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Medical
Association, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and a US
Federal Advisory Committee on Nonprescription Drugs all say that antibacterial
soaps and washes are no more effective than regular soap and water in fighting
infection in everyday use.
Resistant bacteria are a serious matter. “Over the last decade, almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for children and adults who have common infections, once easily treatable with antibiotics,” writes the US Center for Disease Control.
Triclosan also has environmental effects. It has been found to create dioxin (when exposed to sunlight) and chloroform (when combined with free chlorine in water). Triclosan is building up in the environment, and has been found in the umbilical cord blood of infants and in the breast milk of mothers. In Illinois, the Clean Water Agency has asked the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut out the widespread use of antibacterial agents.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that after people flush antibacterial products down the drain, about 75 percent of triclosan and triclocarbon compounds survive treatment at sewage plants. The compounds end up in waterways and in sludge spread on agricultural fields, and may end up on produce.
"... we mass-produce and use a toxic chemical which the Food and Drug Administration has determined has no scientifically proven benefit, ” says Dr. Rolf Halden, Ph.D., lead author of the Johns Hopkins study. Halden notes “... when we try to do the right thing by recycling nutrients contained in biosolids, we end up spreading a known reproductive toxicant on the soil where we grow our food. The study shows just how important it is to consider the full life cycle of the chemicals we manufacture for use in our daily life."
Antibacterial compounds are used in 75 percent of all liquid soaps and 30 percent of bar soaps. They are also found in other types of cleaning products, deodorants, cosmetics, denture cleaners and plastics, including plastic children’s toys.
“You don't need to buy toys treated with anti microbial products,” recommends pediatrician Dr. Embree. “When children put toys in their mouths or play with them when they are sick, simply clean them with water and soap and rinse them well.”
When used in hospitals and other health care
settings, or in the homes of persons with serious immune diseases, anti
microbial soaps can help decrease spread of disease. Outside of these settings,
they are unnecessary, and can do more harm than good.