By Daniel Clarke, Staff Writer
Hand sanitizers infiltrated our society after studies begun showing hand sanitizers as more effective than hand washing back in 2002.
They picked up widespread use and even made their way to our own campus. Many hand sanitizers have antibacterial agents—this makes them better than soap and water at killing germs, and thus better for you—right?
When asked, many students on campus said that they use hand sanitizer to clean their hands. While many felt that soap and water may be more effective than hand sanitizer, few students were aware of any potential hazards of antibacterial agents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests using alcohol-based hand sanitizers only when soap and clean running water is unavailable. It states very clearly that sanitizers are not as effective than washing with soap and water.
A number of studies support using soap and water over hand sanitizer, but many more suggest that antibacterial products, including antibacterial soaps, may be doing harm. In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has questioned the safety of active ingredients in such products.
On June 29, 2016, the FDA issued a “request for additional information to address data gaps for consumer hand sanitizers.”
The request came when an independent advisory committee of outside scientific and medical experts shared their thoughts on active ingredients of antibacterial products.
A glance at one of the dispensers on campus reveals the use of Metrex VioNexus Antiseptic Handwash; its active ingredients are 65.87% ethanol and 0.10% benzalkonium chloride.
On Sept. 2, 2016, the FDA issued a rule banning over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients. This applied to 19 specific active ingredients, most notably, triclosan and triclocarban.
Decisions on other ingredients, including benzalkonium chloride, used in on campus hand sanitizers, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol have been deferred by a year to allow industry to either phase out or present research supporting them.
One research paper published in 2007, titled “Consumer antibacterial soaps: effective or just risky,” demonstrated a potential risk of drug resistance and a lack of additional health benefit associated with consumer soaps.
The risk of drug resistance is a globally pervasive issue has been exacerbated by the ingredients banned by the FDA. The long-term use of anti-bacterial products across the globe are contributing to dangerously elevated levels of antibiotic resistance, according to The World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO reports on a number of antibiotics which are becoming significantly less effective against new strains of bacteria. In many countries, WHO reports, there are growing percentages of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (e.g MRSA), E. coli, Enterobacter and K. pneumoniae that can no longer be cured by available antibiotics.
Bacteria will continue to adapt to our antibacterial products eventually becoming fully resistant. Highlighting the fact that no major new types of antibiotics have been developed in the last 30 years, WHO predicts that, without urgent action, we may be entering a post-antibiotic world where minor injuries can once again kill.
Dr. Alice Benzecry, a micro-biology professor at FDU, has been skeptical about antibacterial products for a long time. Benzecry explains that bacteria are very much a part of us and protect us from other dangerous microbes.
“The indiscriminate usage of antimicrobial products are not only killing the good bacteria and disrupting the symbiotic relationship we have with them, but also making us more vulnerable to infections by antimicrobial resistant ‘superbugs.’” Benzecry said.
Benzecry asserts that this disruption could have a slew of repercussions that may not be immediately obvious. “Being more susceptible to infections could in the long run disrupt our internal biome resulting in severe health issues including allergies and other more debilitating conditions,” Benzecry said.
The use of anti-bacterial products has been called into question and contributed to the increasing resilience of bacteria.
The FDU Community as a whole should try to limit use of these products. While no immediate personal safety concerns have been identified, the FDA is questioning that notion formed in the 1970s.