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FDA Panel: No Advantage to Antibacterial Soaps

FDA Panel: No Advantage to Antibacterial Soaps

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingAntibacterial soaps might get a good scrubbing by federal regulators. Critics will say these soaps may pose a health danger.

In an eleven to one vote, members of an advisory panel to the FDA concluded that mass marketed anitbacterial soaps are no more effective at preventing infections than washing your hands with soap and water. What's more, they may pose a health risk.

To scour your hands, you may scour for the word antibacterial on the label of soaps, all in an effort to protect yourself and your family from germs.

But there's growing concern these products may increase your risk of catching a cold or flu.

Linda Harris, PhD: "You can end up with cracks on your hands, which may lead to infections, which can increase the problem of getting bacteria on the hands and make things worse than before."

Critics worry antibacterial products may in facat create potentially dangerous supergerms. Here's how: By washing your hands with antibacterials, you'll kill a lot of bacteria. But some survive. The fear is that those survivors will grow stronger and resistant to antibiotics.

Not only that, these products don't work against viruses, such as influenza. Infection control expert Barbara Debaun offers this advice:

"Besides getting a flu vaccine, this is the time to really campaign for good hand washing. Whether it's with soap or water or with the alcohol gels that are widely avialable in grocery stores or drug stores."

Experts say products containing alcohol and bleach do not pose the same risks as antibacterial products. Alcohol wipes are great for people traveling, when soap and water is not available. In fact, they're often used in hospitals.

Manufacturers disagree with the critics. Now it's up to an advisory panel to cut through the lather.

Good hand washing techniques are essential, and warm hot water is best. The key is to soap up the hands and rub them for at least 20 seconds before washing under water.

Don't expect big changes in the soap aisle anytime soon. It's unlikely the FDA will vote to pull any existing products. But they could move to raise the bar on labeling and advertising, especially for any new products that get introduced.

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