Antibacterial Soaps Concern Experts

ByABC News
September 7, 2000, 9:01 AM

B O S T O N, Sept. 7 -- Can getting too zestfully clean be dangerous to your health?

Yes, say infectious disease specialists, who worry that overuse of antibacterial soaps might actually help create drug-resistant mutant germs.

But despite their scientific concerns, a new survey of more than 1,000 soaps on the market reveals that nearly half contain some kind of germicide, according to Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious diseases researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Perencevich presented his findings today at a conference held by the Infectious Diseases Society of America in New Orleans.

Soapy Survey

He found that 76 percent of 395 liquid soaps and 29 percent of 733 bar soaps 45 percent of soaps overall contained antibacterial agents, such as triclosan and triclocarban.

While hospitals have been using antibacterial soaps for more than 30 years, it is only in the past decade that antibacterial products have hit the consumer market, in everything from soaps to kitty litter to ballpoint pens.

Americans have flocked to the soaps, hoping to sanitize their homes and hands. But the jury is still out on whether they actually work any better at killing or inhibiting the spread of germs than good old-fashioned soap and water, which merely wash away germs before they reach a dangerous level.

Antibacterials may also kill bacteria that actually are helpful to the body because they keep other troublesome bugs in check, experts say.

There has been no scientific data published to support the claim that adding these compounds to household products prevents infection, Perencevich says.

Spawning Superbugs

Indeed, recent research suggests these products may encourage the growth of superbugs resistant to antimicrobial agents, a problem when these bacteria run rampant, turning into a dangerous infection that cannot be treated with available medication.

Similar growth of drug-resistant strains has already occurred with antibiotics. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has led to several drug-resistant microbes, such as streptococcus pneumonia and strains of E. coli.