Anti-Bacterial Products May Promote Antibiotic Resistance

It is bad enough news that antibiotics used to treat infections are becoming less effective. According to a new study, household disinfectants can also lead to trouble.” With increasing use of cleaning and hygiene products containing QACs (Quaternary ammonium compounds) in the home, there is a valid public health concern that biocide resistance may emerge in the community environment”, according to study author Allison Aiello, PhD, MS, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor. It seems that household disinfectants may actually mutate bacteria, making them resistant to our efforts at eradiation.

The study included 238 households who were assigned to use either non anti-bacterial or anti-bacterial cleansers. Bacterial cultures were performed at baseline and again at one year. Decreased susceptibility of common bacteria (staphylococcus, Acinetobacter baumannii, Enterobacter agglomerans , E cloacae, Klebsiella pneumonia,and Pseudomonas fluorescens/putida ) to benzalkonium chloride, commonly used in hand and face washes, as well as Triclosan, used in cosmetics, household goods and personal care products, textiles and plastics, was found after a year, but not at baseline.

Elizabeth Scott, PhD, an assistant professor and co-director of the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community in Boston, Massachusetts, offered the following to Medscape Infectious Diseases, in response to the study: "We need to be extremely vigilant in protecting the remaining, limited number of effective antibiotics. This includes careful monitoring of antibacterial products, as well as practicing responsible antibiotic prescribing in both human and animal medicine and animal husbandry. At the same time, it is very important to encourage effective personal hygiene behaviors, as well as household and community cleaning and sanitation practices, as a means of preventing community-acquired infections and thus reducing the reliance on antibiotics — it's the old adage of 'prevention is better than cure.'"

According to Dr. Aiello, “Given that there may be a potential risk related to antibiotic resistance, we need to conduct further research on the potential benefits to accurately define the public health importance of these products." There has been little research conducted regarding whether anti-bacterial use in the home reduces infections. In addition, antibiotic use by the participants, pet ownership, and the existence of skin conditions was not clarified in this study.

We should all look for further recommendations about good cleaning practices in the home and in public settings. In the meantime – remember the benefits of simple hand washing. According to Dr. Alan Greene: “effective hand washing at the appropriate moments is one of the most powerful measures of preventive medicine available today.” (1)

2008Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance: Abstract S5. June 23–25, 2008.
(1) Antibacterial Soaps

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