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Some soap can actually promote infections

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Research says antibacterial soap can make you sick.

Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly may be sound advice for protection from the flu, but you may want to hold off on using antibacterial soap, according to new research that found antimicrobial chemicals in the soap may actually stimulate bacterial infections.

The new research, published in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, showed that a chemical compound called triclosan – which is used not only in soaps, but in household cleaning products and toothpaste too – was present inside the nasal passages of 41 percent of the adults participating in the research conducted at the University of Michigan.

Researchers for the study say that triclosan appears to find its way into the human nose where it encourages the growth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which can make some individuals more prone to infection.

After sampling the nasal passages of the study participants, the researchers found that among those who had triclosan present, a majority of them also had the Staphylococcus aureus infection.

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According to lead researcher Blaise Boles, triclosan has been in existence for 40 years and is found in numerous antibacterial household products. Prior research has also found traces of triclosan in milk, as well as in human blood and urine.

In animal studies, the chemical compound has been present in amounts sufficient to decrease heart and skeletal muscle function, not to mention disturb the endocrine system.

As Boles noted, triclosan is very common in antibacterial soaps, although he said that there’s no proof that it cleans any better than regular soap.

Indeed, he said that the chemical may instead put individuals at greater risk for infection, including Staphylococcus aureus nasal colonization.

Accordingly, the researchers said the findings of their new study warrant an “urgently needed” investigation into the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

SOURCE: mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, Triclosan Promotes Staphylococcus aureus Nasal Colonization, Adnan K. Syed, Sudeshna Ghosh, Nancy G. Love and Blaise R. Boles, published April 8, 2014 (doi:10.1128/mBio.01015-13).