Antimicrobial agents are increasingly being incorporated into a wide variety of products for use in the home. Principles for the judicious use of antibiotics for common pediatric infections have been published and reviewed.
All products that claim to kill bacteria and/or viruses have some kind of antibacterial agent. Alcohols, chlorine and peroxides have been used for many decades in health-care and cleaning products. Within the past two decades, the residue-producing antibacterials, once used almost exclusively in health care institutions, have been added to increasing numbers of household products, particularly soaps and cleaning agents.
“We looked at the exposure of pregnant women and their fetuses to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most commonly used germ-killers in soaps and other everyday products,” says Benny Pycke, Ph.D. “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples.”
The problem with this, explains Pycke, a research scientist at Arizona State University (ASU), is that there is a growing body of evidence showing that the compounds can lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and potentially in humans. Also, some research suggests that the additives could contribute to antibiotic resistance, a growing public health problem.
“If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but …
The compounds are used in almost all of our everyday products. Products such as antimicrobial, including hand sanitizer, toothpastes, carpets, detergents, paints, soaps, school supplies and toys, the researchers say.
Showing what effect antimicrobials have on people is a challenge. But Halden and Pycke's colleague Laura Geer, Ph.D., of the State University of New York, found at least one interesting result. Geer says the study yielded a link between women with higher levels of another ubiquitous antimicrobial, butyl paraben, which is commonly used in cosmetics, and shorter newborn lengths. The long-term consequences of this are not clear, but Geer adds that, if this finding is confirmed in larger studies, it could mean that widespread exposure to these compounds could cause a subtle but large-scale shift in birth sizes.
Whether or not an antibacterial agent is regulated depends upon its intended use and its effectiveness. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates antibacterial soaps and antibacterial substances that will either be used on the body or in processed food, including food wrappers and agents added to water involved in food processing.
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