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Antibacterial Soaps Not As Effective as You May Think

Antibacterial Soaps Not As Effective as You May Think

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingAntibacterial products really don't pack a good punch against some common germs. Some new findings may have you think twice about buying certain products.

Stocking your home with antibacterial products may make you feel healthy, but it probably won't do much to help you stay healthy.

Recent studies have found little or no evidence that the addition of antibacterial ingredients reduces illness any more so than traditional soaps and cleaners. The latest research of more than 200 households shows no difference in the rate of symptoms like cough, fever and stomach distress among families that used antibacterial products and those that didn't.

Researchers note that most minor ills like colds and the flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and that most infections are acquired outside the home.

They say while antibacterials may be effective in preventing certain skin conditions and other illnesses, tried and true tactics like covering your Mouth when you cough or sneeze and frequent handwashing, are still the best ways to prevent illness.

You may look for the word antibacterial on the labels of soaps and household cleaners in the quest for good health. But if you use those products, can you reduce your risk for catching a cold or flu? Not according to a new study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers closely monitored roughly 225 healthy families. Half were given antibacterial products, the other half were given look-alike products but with no antibacterial ingredients.

Elaine Larson, R.N., PhD., Columbia Univ. Researcher: "We looked at infectious disease symptoms such as fever, cough, diarrhea and vomiting. And after 11 months, we found no significant difference at all in infectious disease symptoms between those who used the antibacterial products and those who used the plain products."

The majority of symptoms recorded were viral in nature.

Dr. Larson: "The products that we tested are labeled antibacterial products, they're not labeled to kill viruses. While they may have some activity against viruses, that's not what they're designed for."

While surfaces in the home can be teeming with germs, researchers warn the greatest risk for exposure and transmission of infectious diseases occurs outside the home.

Dr. Larson: “The best way to prevent infections is to cover your mouth before you sneeze or cough and to wash your hands thoroughly and often, particularly in public places. If you want to kill many bacteria and other germs rapidly on your hands, there are products available over the counter that have alcohol and do not require water."

In the US, one in four visits to the doctor are linked to infections at an estimated cost of more than 120 billion dollars a year.

The soap and detergent makers association says the study did not say if antibacterial products were effective in reducing bacterial infections and claim their products can kill bacteria associated with skin infections and food poisoning.

One final note: there is another growing concern with antibacterial products, some experts worry they may lead to the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and that washing your hands thoroughly with good old-fashioned soap and water is enough to kill these germs.

The study was conducted by the Columbia School of Nursing in New York and is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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