(Beyond Pesticides, June 17, 2008) A recent study at Cardiff University in Wales shows that antimicrobial wipes, including those containing triclosan, may be spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria, rather than killing it. Researchers from the Welsh School of Pharmacy studied the bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and the ability of different types of wipes to remove or kill it. They found that in “normal use” conditions, or how hospitals in Wales have been using the wipes, bacteria is only moved from surface to surface, increasing potential exposure.
According to the university, “The research involved a surveillance programme observing hospital staff using surface wipes to decontaminate surfaces near patients, such as bed rails, and other surfaces commonly touched by staff and patients, such as monitors, tables and keypads. It was found that the wipes were being applied to the same surface several times and used on consecutive surfaces before being discarded.”
Furthermore, in laboratory replications, the team found “that although some wipes can remove higher numbers of bacteria from surfaces than others, the wipes tested were unable to kill the bacteria removed. As a result, high numbers of bacteria were transferred to other surfaces when reused.”
The findings raise concern from others in the field. Professor Mark Enright, an expert in hospital acquired infections at Imperial College in London, said, “Many cleaners use cleaning products more than just once, and if they are not using fresh disinfectant every time then they are effectively just spreading the infection.”
Professor Donna Duberg, of St. Louis University, concurred. “Our bodies are designed to handle a certain number of bacteria,” she said. “We use way too many antibacterial agents,” which can lead to resistant bacteria. “I personally believe there isn’t anything that good, hot soapy water can’t clean.”
Antibacterials, particularly triclosan, have been linked to a host of hazards, from bacteria resistance to endocrine disruption and environmental persistence. To learn more about these increasingly common products, visit our antibacterials program page.