|What Happened to Antibacterial Soap?|
|By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions|
Soap and proper handwashing remain the most effective way to stop the transmission of disease. Some correctional facility administrators, aware of this principle and hoping to prevent the spread of disease in their facilities, have taken this a step further. Several years ago, they switched from traditional soaps - whether in a bar or dispensed form - to antibacterial soaps. Antibacterial soaps typically included a chemical ingredient called triclosan that helps kills germs and pathogens as it is used.
Triclosan was developed in Switzerland about 50 years ago and was used as a surgical scrub. When it made its way to the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially found it to be “safe and effective,” allowing manufacturers to use the ingredient not only in medical settings but in all sorts of consumer products. However, while the FDA approved the use of the ingredient, there were no conclusive studies that indicated triclosan was effective.
Because of the lack of evidence, and because concerns started mounting that triclosan may be harmful to people and the environment, in 2013 the FDA gave manufacturers one year to present scientific studies proving triclosan’s effectiveness. If proven effective, the FDA would likely allow them to use the ingredient. However, many times, the FDA then asks manufacturers to show why they need to use a particular ingredient. In other words, manufacturers would have to prove that it is the only ingredient or is more effective than any other currently available.
However, Gabriel W. Rangel, a Ph.D. candidate in the Biological Sciences in Public Health Program at Harvard University, reported that to date, “there has been no conclusive evidence to suggest [that] antibacterial soaps are an improvement over non-antibacterial soap.”
In other words, as far as killing germs and pathogens on hands, and staying the spread of infection, there was no noticeable improvement. Worse, while there is no evidence that triclosan has negatively impacted human health, there have been studies indicating that the accumulation of triclosan in the environment has harmed aquatic life.
There are also concerns that the use of triclosan may result in stronger and more drug-resistant bacteria. This is a serious concern. Not only are many people becoming immune to certain types of antibiotics, we are also finding that many types of pathogens are becoming resistant to the disinfectant cleaning solutions used for years to kill them.
Triclosan has since been banned for use in the U.S. However, some manufacturers have replaced it with at least three different ingredients, which the FDA has allowed to happen. But the entire process is starting all over again. These ingredients can be used until the FDA has more time to evaluate them and also determine if they may have negative impacts on the environment.
So, what should correctional administrators do in the interim? Should they select soaps with these new ingredients developed to replace triclosan?
According to Michael Wilson of AFFLINK, an organization which supplies correctional facilities all over the country with cleaning, janitorial, packaging, and other products, there is only one option currently: “have inmates and staff keep using plain soap and plenty of it.”
Wilson references studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have found washing with plain soap and water reduces bacterial presence on hands by 82 percent. “If staff and inmates take the time to wash their hands thoroughly, in warm water for 20 seconds, we probably can reduce bacterial counts even more, closer to 90 percent.”
He also points out that the CDC believes that the combination of plain soap and water is so effective at stopping the spread of disease, they refer to it as a “do it yourself vaccine.”
We mentioned something earlier that Wilson would also like to expand on. Earlier, we said that certain types of disinfectants are losing their effectiveness at killing pathogens, calling this a serious cause for concern. To help prevent this loss of efficacy, Wilson advises that correctional administrators work with their distributors to find alternative disinfectants that are just as effective. The goal here is that while the different brands may contain similar ingredients to kill pathogens, “they may also include other ingredients to help kill pathogens. Mixing things up helps prevent disinfectant immunities from developing.”
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the corrections industry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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