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26
Jan

Scientists Say Soap and Water Beat Antibacterials

(Beyond Pesticides, January 26, 2007) With an annual introduction of 200 to 300 new anti-microbial products, scientists are saying that the most effective way to fight germs is the old fashioned way—soap and water. Amid a national trend of increasing germophobia, experts are saying soap and water are a better option than alcohol-based disinfectants and antibacterial soaps.

In 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration led a panel of experts and industry representatives to weigh and analyze different germ killing methods. The panel found “no firm scientific evidence that the flood of antimicrobial products we observe has any discernible benefit over the use of regular soap and water.

Few people are aware that plain soap is an anti-microbial. It kills bacteria by making their cell membranes leak fluids. This coupled with the motion of scrubbing the hands together—which loosens microbes and makes them fall into the soapy solution and wash away—creates “one of the most critical control strategies” for germs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Mike Richardson, an industry analyst at the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, consumers spend more than $200 million on anti-microbial products every year. With sanitizers being used on shopping carts and on gym floors, and distributed in schools and on airlines, some have suggested that the amount used is starting to be overkill.

Despite this increased compulsion to use antibacterials, Rolf Halden, Ph.D., an environmental scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that the introduction of so many new anti-microbial products has not affected the rates of infectious disease in the United States. He points out that antibacterials don’t even kill the cold, flu, or intestinal illness viruses. Also, alcohol-based products don’t kill bacteria with protective spores, including bacteria that cause a life-threatening type of diarrhea and colitis. “The money’s been spent, but the benefit is doubtful, or absent,” said Dr. Halden.

More than ineffective, these products may be outright dangerous. Two common antibacterial ingredients—triclosan and its analog triclocarban—have been linked to numerous health and environmental effects. Triclosan depresses the central nervous system and is hypothermic. It is disposed into residential drains and is carried to streams and rivers, where it destroys aquatic ecosystems. Dr. Halden says that they [triclosan and triclocarban] may kill beneficial organisms in soil and waterways. Both of these chemicals have been found in breast milk, fish, and waterways.

Compounding the danger of using antibacterial products, laboratory evidence suggests that use of these products could cause a stronger strain of bacteria to emerge—one that could resist conventional antibiotics.

Perhaps what is needed is the public to realize that some bacteria are beneficial to human health. Kimberly Thompson, Sc.D., a professor of risk analysis and decision science at Harvard University says that nowadays “the goal is to annihilate all germs…it’s not necessary or desirable.” She continues, “We rely on bacteria and viruses as part of our environment.” In fact, the use of antibiotics has also been shown to decrease levels of healthy bacteria in the human digestive system, making people more apt to infection and indigestion.

It seems an easy choice to make when keeping clean, but companies keep pushing to sell more and more anti-microbial products. Says Dr. Halden on the issue, “The flood of antimicrobial products is driven by monetary profits, and not by scientific evidence.”

Source: Baltimore Sun

TAKE ACTION:You can stay healthy and put pressure to phase out antibacterials by not using products with triclosan or triclocarban. Stay hygienic the most effective way, by using plain soap and water.

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