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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Proper hand-washing

Antibacterial soaps have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, these soaps are no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soaps may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the products' antimicrobial agents — making it even harder to kill these germs in the future. In general, regular soap is fine.  - "Hand washing: an easy way to prevent infection," from the Mayo Clinic.

The same document suggests the use of alcohol-containing hand sanitizers.

The US Centers for Disease Control gives similar advice.

Flu is caused by a virus, not by bacteria. Antibiotics, and other anti-bacterial agents, have little or no effectiveness against viruses. As I understand it, alcohol can damage virus structure, hence has some effectiveness against these germs.

Wash often, using soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The reason that washing is effective is that it removes the germs from your hands, so that you don't carry them to your nose or mouth. You can remove viruses and bacteria (and other things!) from your hands that way.

Bacterial resistance is all too common. It is often the result of natural selection -- exposure to an anti-bacterial agent kills susceptible bacteria, but leaves those that are resistant, which, as a result, means the the population at large is more resistant. As some of you know from unfortunate experience, it is now possible to get staphylococcus, and other infections, which are very difficult to fight with antibiotics. The same infection, a few decades ago, would probably have been easy to treat. Using antibiotics too often, in soap, in cattle feed, and probably in other ways, has selected for bacteria that are very hard to stop, and may kill us. (See Wikipedia article on antibiotic resistance.)

Keep clean! Thanks for reading.


George said...

Interesting. In my medical days of prescribing antibiotics orally or other routes, resistance was a constant concern. But I never thought about the same principle being applied to hand soap. Wiki mentions Triclosan as a common antibacterial in soap, which was a new piece of information to me. After reading your article, I looked over and saw my hand sanitizer sitting on my desk. A quick look at the ingredients revealed the active ingredient to be Ethyl Alcohol. Guess I'm ok...

Keetha Broyles said...

I like soap that has lotion in it - - -

About the comment on my blog - - - did I say that to you??? I know I USED to say our decor was Early Poverty or Contemporary Ghetto, but do not remember telling you that. Perhaps it was someone else.

Martin LaBar said...

I think handwashing is less likely to work for bacterial resistance now than it was a few years ago, George.

That wasn't you, Keetha.

Thank you both.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your comment, Buy viagra.

However, as the post says, quoting the Mayo Clinic, no less, anti-bacterial soaps are not necessary, and, in fact, they may not be desirable, because using them contributes to bacterial resistance.