“I don’t like germs. That’s why I don’t like to shake hands. You just never know what that person did with his or her hand right before it was offered to you to shake...... (Donald Trump)”
I couldn’t have said it better myself! Except, while Mr. Trump like Howie Mandel are advocators of ceasing the “archaic tradition” of hand shaking to avoid germs, my philosophy is “get a grip – go wash your hands.”
For centuries, hand hygiene has been considered an important measure in promoting both public health and good personal hygiene. There is a plethora of scientific evidence to support the fact that careful attention to hand hygiene, lower rates of infectious disease in diverse settings, such as health care facilities, child care centers, and households. Fancy that, if you remove germs from your hands you can disrupt person-to-person transmission of infectious diseases! With the increased recognition of the importance of hand hygiene in health care settings, the assortment of hand hygiene products has expanded to include antimicrobial foams, rubs, lotions, wipes, and soaps and with 7 Billion people worldwide, why wouldn’t it? Hand hygiene products are a very lucrative business to be in.
Similar to the surface disinfectant chemistries we have been delving into over the past year, there are a slew of chemistries traditionally used for hand hygiene. Like any chemistry, there are also concerns about the toxicity both human and environment as well as resistance development. As hand hygiene is known to be probably the single most important factor to stopping the spread of disease, development of resistance to the potions, lotions, rubs and scrubs we use to clean our hand is of vital importance. I would hazard to say more so than even surface disinfectants as the “wash off” products that we use to clean are hands enter the sanitary sewer system and ultimately into the environment at far larger volumes than the surface disinfectants that we wipe on a surface and allow to air dry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), virtually all significant bacterial infections in the world are becoming resistant to the antibiotic treatment of choice. “The CDC estimates that, each year, nearly 2 million people in the United States acquire an infection while in a hospital, resulting in 90,000 deaths. More than 70 percent of the bacteria that cause these infections are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.” Bacterial resistance results in more visits to the doctor, a lengthier illness, the use of more toxic drugs. It can also mean death. Similar to antibiotic resistance, the threat of pathogens developing chemical resistance is very real. There is widespread concern over the development of chemical resistance to the hand hygiene products currently used.
In 2013, we will be delving into each of the hand hygiene actives so for the purposes of this blog I will not be going into “report card” detail. For what I will refer to as the “wash off” actives the primary chemistries used for hand hygiene include; Quaternary Ammonium Chloride, Chlorhexidine, Parachlorometaxylenol or PCMX (a phenol derivative) and Triclosan.
If you recall from my “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, there’s a rubber duck in my tub” book review blog in July, Slow Death By Rubber Duck describes in detail an experiment in which the author turned himself into a human guinea pig. The level of Triclosan in his blood shot up by 3,000%!!! Triclosan is believed to interfere with thyroid function and is not metabolized by the human body or even by the sewage waste process, making it an almost ubiquitous environmental chemical in water. In fact, in a study by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists detected Triclosan in the urine of nearly 75% of those tested (2,517 people ages six years and older). The European Union classifies Triclosan as irritating to the skin and eyes, and as very toxic to aquatic organisms, noting that it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. Environment Canada likewise categorized Triclosan as potentially toxic to aquatic organisms, bioaccumulative, and persistent. In other words, it doesn't easily degrade and can build up in the environment after it has been rinsed down the sink or shower drain.
Suffice it to say, similar to the surface disinfectants we have already investigated, due diligence into the type of hand soap we use needs to be considered. As we are seeing with surface disinfectants, oxidizing chemistries, especially hydrogen peroxide-based products are expanding because of their exceptional health and safety and environmental sustainability profiles. H2O2 breaks down into water and oxygen meaning is completely benign if rinsed down the drain and as it does not leave behind any chemistry residue it will not lead to chemical resistance. While H2O2 is not an active that is widely used for hand hygiene, a product based on hydrogen peroxide was recently launched in Europe and will surely make its way to North America.
The next time you need to choose a hand hygiene product I hope you’ll take time to consider the type of chemistry the hand soap you choose uses and pick one that will be safer for you, me and the environment!