It's amazing how confusing it can be when a new disease emerges, and advice starts flying around. One thing that I want to nip in the bud right now is the idea that "antibacterial" soaps can be helpful for fighting Swine Flu. Wrong!
Hand sanitizers, which are usually alcohol-based, and are designed for use when you're not near a sink, are beneficial against the flu. Antibacterial soaps are useless and could be dangerous. Here's why:
First, influenza is a virus, so antibacterial products are useless. That goes for antibacterial soaps and for oral antibiotics as well;
Second, the soaps that are sold as "antibacterial" have been tested and found to be no more effective than regular soap and water;
Third, some research suggests that these antibacterial soaps may actually create antibiotic resistance in bacteria; an article from the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases that summarizes this issue is here: pdf.
Finally, the ingredients in antibacterial soaps - triclosan or triclocarban - have some serious toxicity concerns. These chemicals pollute rivers and streams, are toxic to wildlife, can enter and accumulate in people's bodies, and disrupt hormone systems (triclosan interferes with thyroid hormone, whereas triclocarban has a testosterone-like effect). Stay tuned for more on this soon.
The bottom line is: Don't use antibacterial soaps! Do wash your hands frequently with regular soap and water, and do use hand sanitizers when you're not near a sink! Stay well!
- Gina Solomon
Originally published in NRDC's Switchboard blog.
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