First came word that popular antibacterial hand soaps are not only unnecessary (old fashioned soap and water is the best way to keep germs from spreading) but the chemicals in them can harm your health and environment. Now a new study says instead of killing potentially dangerous infections, disinfectant wipes may actually spread drug-resistant and sometimes deadly bacteria.
The research, recently presented at the American Society of Microbiology’s General Meeting in Boston, zeroed in on bacteria that included the dreaded “superbugs” — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA infections range from so-called “flesh eating” disfiguring skin infections to life-threatening and difficult to treat infections of the bloodstream, lungs and surgical wounds. The majority of cases are associated with hospitals, nursing homes or other health care facilities –- exactly the places where wipes are frequently used to try to prevent infections.
In a statement to the press, Gareth Williams, a microbiologist at Cardiff University, said the wipes, which are routinely used in hospitals, killed some bacteria. However, the study of intensive care units at two Welsh hospitals showed they not only didn’t do a thorough job but the wipes had a high risk of carrying the so-called superbugs to other surfaces. The researchers found that instead of using a wipe only once on one surface, hospital workers routinely tend to clean several surfaces near patients, such as vital sign monitors, tables and bed wiping with a single wipe and that can move the infectious bacteria around rather than destroying them.
Previous research has shown that patients are at risk at many hospitals due to poor hygiene practices spreading dangerous bacteria. Despite their training, many health care workers, including doctors and nurses, often fail to even wash their hands between patients, according to several studies.
While the new study covered bacteria in hospitals, the information is also pertinent to the use of wipes in the home. You can’t assume that by wiping down a cutting board, sink and counter top with a so-called disinfectant wipe that you have killed all potentially dangerous bacteria especially that associated with raw eggs and meat.
The best line of defense against infection? Wash your hands and surfaces with hot water and soap. Natural soaps and detergents with no added antibacterial agents zap the numbers of potentially troublesome bacteria adequately and quickly; old-fashioned cleaning aids such as bleach, alcohol, ammonia, and hydrogen peroxide can be used, too.
They won’t leave behind long-lasting antibacterial chemical residues which can continue to kill some benign bacteria and increase the risk that resistant strains will grow on surfaces. The CDC points out that only a few years ago, a few dozen products containing antibacterial agents were being marketed for the home whereas today there are over 700 that are available including cleansers, soaps, toothbrushes, dishwashing detergents, and hand lotions, all containing antibacterial agents. And, like antibiotics, antibacterial chemicals in wipes and other household products may kill off susceptible but harmless bacteria but promote the growth of resistant strains.
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