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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Is your antibacterial soap providing a false sense of security?

I am not sure if the proliferation of antibacterial / antimicrobial soaps for use at home was a result of the public’s panic over the battle of the bugs; or if it was due to the fact that a number of well known companies simply added antibacterial agents such as triclosan to their delicious smelling soaps.  I’ve had more than one friend admit that it was the smell of the soap that lured them into buying it and not the fact that it was antibacterial.  I’ve never felt the need to use antibacterial soaps and go out of my way to avoid purchasing them for use in my home – no matter how good they smell.  In fact I avoid them so much that when I’ve received them as gifts they quite literally sit in the back of the cupboard until I become so desperately low on hand soap that I pull them out.

So when I read that a study had been conducted to determine if antibacterial soaps containing triclosan were better at fighting germs than plain soap, I was most eager to read on.  I’m happy to say that my stubbornness at not needing to use antibacterial soaps has been justified.

The study which was published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapyshowed that antibacterial soaps were no more effective against germs than plain soap.  The study compared two types of soaps and exposed them to 20 bacterial strains using conditions that replicated hand washing recommendations and consumer habits.  A 20 sec exposure to the bacteria was used which is consistent with recommendations from the CDC and WHO.  The volunteers lathered the soap vigorously for 30 sec ensuring that it was spread over the entire surface of their hands and lower portion of their forearms.  The results showed no significant difference in bactericidal activity between plain and antibacterial soap at either a 20 sec or 30 sec contact time. 

The good news was that after 9 hrs of contact time, the triclosan containing antibacterial soap showed greater bactericidal efficacy than plain soap.  But let’s be honest, we’re lucky to get people to wash their hands.  Who on earth is going to keep soap on their hands for 9 hrs!

As rightly needed to be done, the researchers suggested that it’s time for governments and industries to review rules governing the labeling of antibacterial soaps.  This recommendation is not unreasonable considering in 2013, the FDA issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. Under the proposal by the FDA, if companies are unable to demonstrate such safety and effectiveness, the products would need to be reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market.  Today, some of the larger delicious smelling hand soap companies have already removed triclosan from their ingredient deck.

Do you know what’s in your bottle?  Assuming your product contains some form of antibacterial agent such as triclosan, did you purchase it because you thought it would improve the health of you and your family or because you liked the smell of it?  We now know, they don’t do what we thought they did so why use a product that contains chemicals that can negatively impact your health or the health of our environment?  I hope you

look for an alternative and be willing to sacrifice some of that delicious smell if you have to!

Bugging Off!


Friday, September 18, 2015

Hand Sanitizer: Friend or Foe??

For my ICP friends you may be wondering what the heck I’m thinking considering hand sanitizers as a foe when we know the importance of hand hygiene in stopping the spread of disease.  Nothing is more evident than the importance of frequently washing your hands in the first week back to school.  For those in my neck of the woods we are 8 days back to school.  Eight measly days and my 6.5 yr old has his first cold (runny nose, cough and “frog” in this throat).  Great.  Just Great.

Without a doubt, hand sanitizers are useful in killing the bugs found on our hands and minimizing infection transmission. The ones based on ethanol alcohol also contain enough alcohol to elevate blood alcohol levels quickly and the fact is yummy grape or other fruit smelling products may prove to be too irresistible for children to taste.  In fact over the past five years, U.S. poison control centers have seen a rise in reports of hand sanitizer-induced drunkenness among children.  A rise so significant (e.g. >400%!!) that health experts are now warning of the dangers of underage children using it as a cheap and easy way to get a buzz.

Most of us are probably well aware that alcohol is a chemical by-product produced by fermented yeast, sugar, and starches. When this tasty elixir (drug) is ingested it directly affects the central nervous system. In small amounts, alcohol can produce feelings of euphoria, and relaxation and can also have a sedative effect.  In larger amounts which lead to intoxication alcohol can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease. 

The average bottle of wine is 12% alcohol and the average beer is around 5% but bottles of hand sanitizer range from 45% to 95%  alcohol.  I’m sure you can see the concern with ingestion of said hand sanitizers.  Similar to wine and beer, drinking these fruity hand sanitizers may give you a buzz similar to one from drinking traditional alcohol, and its much higher alcohol content means you get drunk much faster and significantly increase your risk of developing alcohol poisoning which can be life threatening.   Side effects that have been specifically linked to drinking hand sanitizer include diarrhea, memory loss, blindness, and irreversible organ damage.

One way to minimize the risk of children drinking hand sanitizer is to purchase a foam version rather than a gel or liquid version.  Foam products are more difficult to extract the alcohol from which help discourage kids from drinking the products.  The other option is of course to keep all hand sanitizers out of easy reach.

Having a sick child and believing in the use of hand sanitizers I’m not necessarily a believer that the answer is to put them up out of reach or behind locked doors.   We need to continue to promote their use.  We need to ensure they are in areas where they can and will be used so that the spread of infections are stopped.  I do, however, question why we need to create “pretty” smelling products?  Hand Sanitizers have a distinctive alcohol smell.  Why not just embrace that smell?    

Similar to past discussions on what the smell of clean is – the absence of odor, not the smell of lemons or pine.  Why can’t we promote the fact that hand hygiene using alcohol-based products should smell as their names sake.  I know that I would take more comfort in smelling the alcohol and knowing that someone used the product and has “clean” hands.  Hand hygiene is an important part of our lives.  I’m not saying that the number of occurrences of children drinking hand sanitizer is not worrisome, but I wonder if we left the smell as it is rather than trying to “consumerize” it and educated children in how to use and how not to use (– including not drinking it), if we’d see the same problem?

I know that I for one think hand sanitizers are friends.  I will continue to use them.  I will continue to allow my son to use them, but I will be sure to educate him against ingesting them.

Bugging Off!


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Report - The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age

Some may have realized that I missed posting a blog last week. I admit, it was not until Saturday morning when I awoke in a panic that I realized I had not written one.  But I decided to give myself some slack - I was on vacation.  I was enjoying the warm weather, doing the last minute back to school shopping and taking a bit of time for myself to lounge in the sun while listening to the soothing sounds of the river and the not so soothing sounds of my son and his friends playing.  I also managed to get some vacation-reading in – some that was completely mindless drivel and some like Nathan Wolfe’s The Viral Storm, which was more educational and helped repopulate the brain cells I lost from reading the drivel...

The Viral Storm is an easy to read overview of the science of viruses.  It talks to how viruses and humans have evolved throughout history, how deadly viruses like Influenza (aka Swine or Bird Flu) have almost wiped us out and why modern life that we love so much has made us vulnerable to the threat of global pandemics.  Reading it after our recent Ebola crisis makes you realize that while Ebola is scary, there are without a doubt nastier bugs out there, ones we have yet to hear of lurking in monkeys, bats, and other animals that will very likely be hunted, slaughtered and eaten and without a doubt will unleash the next “weapon” of mass depopulation.

In fact, Wolfe’s research has demonstrated the role that hunting and eating wild game plays in introducing new diseases into the human body.  The scary truth is the more closely related the hunter and the hunted are, the more likely a virus can adapt to its new host and cause infection.  If that new virus can spread easily from person to person, in our modern world we had best all look out because that new bug is just a flight, car, train or boat ride away! 

Industrial farming also increases the number of animals and their viruses that we are exposed to and quite literally abolish historical relationships of one animal and a few people.  Modern farming has created a web of connections between thousands of animals and thousands of consumers and as Wolfe so eloquently articulated “today, an average meat eater will consume bits of millions of animals during their lifetimes.”  Of course, we cannot blame industrial farming alone.  On a global basis, most of the world’s population now live in large cities that, from a bug’s point of view, are no different than a factory farm.  Dense populations of people provide viruses with an easy source of “fresh meat” to infect which allows viruses to improve their ability to move quickly through a population and become more virulent, more deadly along the way.

Wolfe also details his work in establishing networks aimed at catching pandemics before they start.  While in its infancy, it is something that certainly is needed if we are to survive.  His closing chapter contained statistics that certainly made me pause. “Around 8,000 people died worldwide at the hands of terrorists between April 2001 and August 2002, a period that included the 9/11 attacks. Between April 2009 and August 2012, more than 18,000 died as a result of H5N1. Shouldn't we spend at least as much on preventing pandemics as we spend in the war on terror?

Bugging Off!