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We are surrounded with anti-microbial wipes, soaps and gels. But do they actually make us healthier? Recent studies suggest otherwise. A comprehensive study at the U. of Michigan found that good old fashion non-antibacterial soap and water hand washing is efficacious for preventing both gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses. Next it was found that that antibiotic soaps and wipes with triclosan (most common antibacterial agent) were no more likely to prevent gastrointestinal or respiratory illness than non-antibacterial soap and water. Here’s where it gets disturbing. A study out of Columbia University reported that for chronically sick patients (asthma and diabetes, for example) antibiotic soaps were actually associated with increases in the frequencies of fevers, runny noses and coughs. Yes, antibiotic soaps appeared to have made those patients sicker.
How can this be? No one knows yet, but it could be that triclosan disrupts our normal flora in such a way that it ultimately selects for non-native microbes that make us sick. It’s known that triclosan doesn’t kill bacteria equally. It actually selects for certain more tolerant species – some that actually eat triclosan. Another study also showed that certain bacteria that triclosan selects for are also the ones that have resistance to oral antibiotics. If you have a basic understanding of evolution, you can see this is NOT good.
It might be even worse. What about all the triclosan that gets washed down the drain? It’s found that in many municipal water supplies triclosan is present in relatively high concentrations. Although we do not yet know the effects on humans, we do know that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor in fish. Fish exposed to triclosan have lower sperm counts. This is scary because fish and humans have a great deal of endocrine similarity on an evolutionary basis.
What does all this mean? No one knows yet, but at the very least we need to take a much closer look at this potentially huge crisis that we may be creating.