The Dirt On Soap
Half the soap on store shelves may be doing more than cleaning your hands
Neil Sherman, HealthSCOUT Reporter
MONDAY, Sept. 11 (HealthSCOUT) -- Almost half of the soaps sold in the United States contain an antibacterial agent that, some experts say, may be contributing to the rise of germs that can't be killed with ordinary antibiotics, says a new study.
The new dirt on antibacterial soap shows that 79 percent of liquid soaps and 29 percent of bar soaps contain triclosan, an antibiotic designed to kill a wide variety of germs. The germicide has been woven into fabrics, injected into plastics and been included in soaps and toothpastes for the last 30 years by an industry eager to proclaim their products can ward off infection.
"We were looking for information on the use of these soaps, and I was unable to get this information from the industry," says Dr. Eli Perencevich, a research fellow with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass.
Repeated calls to the Dial Corporation in Scottsdale, Ariz., for information on antibiotic soaps and for a response to the study were not returned. A Procter & Gamble media representative said their spokesmen were unavailable for comment.
Perencevich wanted to know which antibacterial soaps used triclosan because he's worried that the germicide will cause bacteria to become resistant to drugs, leading to untreatable infections. "There is evidence building over the past several years that these products [antibacterial soaps] will lead to bacterial resistance. These bacteria could develop to the point where they grow resistant to antibiotics."
Perencevich surveyed two chain stores in 45 states, 10 regional stores and three Internet stores to see which of 733 bar soaps and 395 liquid soaps had triclosan as an ingredient.
Germs that can resist triclosan have been seen in the laboratory, Perencevich says, but the matter is "just starting to be looked at in the general community."
Triclosan is used by hospital personnel to prevent the spread of infection, but at much higher doses, Perencevich explains. "In hospitals, they use about 10 times as much triclosan. But doses in the home are much lower and there is absolutely no evidence that for healthy people this prevents infection. I would say there is no proven benefit for these products."
The findings were presented last week at the 38th annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in New Orleans.
Experts believed that triclosan interrupted so many processes in germs that it was impossible for a bacteria to survive the disinfectant. Being exposed to antibiotics will often mutate surviving bacteria. But experiments at Tufts University School of Medicine in 1998 showed that Escherichia coli, a major culprit in food poisoning, could fight off triclosan if it mutated only a single gene.
Don't believe any of it, says the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA). Triclosan has been used in soaps and consumer products for more than 30 years, and the safety of the products is carefully regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"In the more than 30 years that antibacterial wash products have been used by consumers and medical professionals, we have not seen any evidence that their use contributes to antibiotic resistance," the organization says on its Web site. "In fact, two independent hospital infection control researchers recently presented studies to the FDA showing that triclosan-based wash products controlled and reversed outbreaks of resistant bacteria infections."
The SDA says the Tufts' findings are laboratory-specific and cannot be duplicated in a bathroom or kitchen
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