It may be a dangerous, germ-filled world out there, but with your little bottle - choose one: Dial, Safeguard,
Palmolive - you can stroll worry-free through it... or so you may think.
The problem about our obsession with killing germs, some scientists
and public health advocates warn, is that it may ultimately do us more harm than good.
Chief among those skeptics
is microbiologist Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics
Levy's research has led him to question why "antibacterial ingredients, once successfully used
to prevent transmission of disease-causing micro-organisms among patients, particularly in hospitals...are now being added
to products used in healthy households.
Even though an added health benefit has not been demonstrated".
That's happening, Levy says despite several "potential negative consequences" of these products, including
weakening the immune system, which could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children, and a possible link to the emergence
of antibiotic resistance.
The very problem that is making some diseases, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus, MRSA, so difficult to treat.
Good Old Soap
old soap relied primarily on animal and vegetable fat for it's chemistry, and it's cleaning power came essentially from it's
ability to create suds and lather, as the soap molecules formed a thin film around dirt, allowing it to be washed away under
Down the drain
go not only bacteria but also viruses, such as those that cause the common cold.
Compounds like chlorine,
alcohol and peroxide ( which kill immediately and at random rather than inhibiting the growth of bacteria) were often added
to give soap extra cleaning kick.
Those products are also commonly found in travel wipes and towelettes.
Adding specifically antibacterial agents seemed a natural next step.
And although Levy and other
scientists don't dispute that these chemicals can kill bacteria, they argue there's no evidence they do any good. "
No study has shown that, Levy says.
What's more many illnesses such as flu and the common cold, which prompt
people to wipe down telephone handsets and doorknobs, are caused not by bacteria but by viruses - and antibacterials can't
slow a virus at all.
"For general use, antibacterial soaps are not superior to cleansing with regular soap
and water", says Shmuel Shoham, an infectious-disease specialist at Washington Hospital Center.
view is backed by the conclusions of an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration, which voted 11 to 1 in 2005
that, when it comes to keeping us healthy, antibacterial soaps and washes are no more effective.
What About Resistance?
While the arguments continue over whether
antibacterial soap does any good, there's a second concern over whether it may actually do harm.
is accumulating", Shoham says," that chemicals used in antimicrobial soaps may be causing bacteria to become more
resistant to commonly used antibiotics.
Levy lays out this theory in his book " The Antibiotic Paradox".
Antibacterial products leave residues where they are used. They linger and continue to kill the bacteria,
but not effectively or randomly. The naturally stronger bacteria that survived the initial assault develop
new defense mechanisms against the chemicals.
This selection process gives rise to a new generation that
is resistant to the offending compounds.
Certain bacteria also develop " cross-resistance", transferring
their new and improved defenses to bacteria fighting other types of antibiotics.
This is essentially the
same scenario as the emergence of drug resistance from the overuse of antibiotic medications.
Good Go Too
Some bacteria are bad for us, but some are good. The antimicrobial kills
And when the good bacteria are gone, there's more room for the bad bacteria to grow, raising our risk
of becoming sick.
Besides, a germ -free environment may actually weaken our immune system, some critics say.
If you are worried about
MRSA, E.coli, SARS, influenza or simply the common cold, you know you should wash your hands thoroughly, plain soap and water