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Consumer Reports

Antibacterial soaps no better than regular | (UPI) -- Antibacterial soaps seem no better than regular products at protecting people from microbes, researchers said Friday.

Reporting at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, researchers said they studied the expensive and heavily advertised products among 222 home caregivers in New York City. The workers were recruited to wash their hands regularly with soap -- but were not told whether the soap was plain or antibacterial. Researchers examined the subjects' hands at the beginning of the study and one year later.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., found fewer bacteria on all the caregivers' hands at the end of the study -- but no difference for subjects using antibacterial soap brands.

"It makes you wonder why they call it antibacterial, because according to our research, it isn't any more so than plain soaps," said Elaine Larson, associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing, New York.

Larson said the finding raises concerns that antibacterial soaps could be helping to create hardier strains of bacteria -- strains that can resist antibiotics and other medications more effectively.

"That is the theoretical concern," said Dr. David Gilbert, director of medical education at Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon, "although such resistance has never been proven to my knowledge."

However, Larson said, "If there's even a theoretical chance of that, why use it?" In particular, she noted, if they are not more effective than plain soap.

Gilbert, professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, said that another problem might be development of skin reactions to antibacterials. "Anytime you put a biologically active agent ingredient you don't need in something like soap you increase that risk," he said, adding that the prospect has not been well studied.

In another development at the IDSA meeting, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released new guidelines for hand hygiene in health care settings -- hospitals and long-term care facilities.

CDC's director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said the new guidelines add the use of alcohol-based hand rubs to the list of products and procedures -- including traditional soap and water washing and use of surgical gloves -- deemed acceptable to prevent the spread of dangerous infections in hospital or equivalent settings.

The alcohol-based rubs are expected to be better than soap and water because they can be used quickly and effectively to prevent the spread of dangerous organisms.

"Hand hygiene is a critical component of patient safety," Gerberding said, "and it does save lives." Research has shown that in hospital settings -- particularly in high volume areas -- compliance with hand-washing procedures often are lacking, she said.

"The main advantage of the alcohol-based rubs," said Dr. John Boyce, chief of infectious disease at the Hospital of Saint Raphael, New Haven, Conn., "is that they are faster and more convenient."

Gerberding said the guidelines are not aimed at the home, where soap and water washing usually is sufficient for families. However, doctors said the alcohol-based rubs might find use at picnics or outdoor food preparation where soap and water might not be readily available.

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