Whoops! Anti-Bacterial Wipes Can Spread Disease

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandJun 4, 2008 9:11 PM


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It may make you feel better to see a hospital orderly wiping down every surface in your room with an anti-bacterial wipe. But according to a new study, that wipe isn't killing bacteria on contact, and may be simply picking up bacteria from one surface and distributing it to others. In an era where antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" like MRSA are a growing threat in hospitals, nurses and orderlies have understandably been wielding the wipes diligently. But when a team led by microbiologist Gareth Williams tested wipes after their use at several hospitals in Wales, they found that MRSA in particular could easily be spread by those handy little moist towelettes.

Dr Williams said: "What is remarkable is that some of these wipes actually have the words 'kills MRSA' written on the box." We found that, under the conditions we observed in actual hospitals, this wasn't the case" [BBC News].

So what's a nervous nurse -- or kindergarten teacher, or fitness club manager -- to do? Williams recommends that a wipe be used one time, to clean one surface, and then discarded. But all those institutions that have adopted the anti-bacterial wipes as a symbol of cleanliness and sanitation might be better off with a scrub brush. Commenting on the story, professor Donna Duberg of Saint Louis University said the public's over-enthusiasm for disinfecting products can have damaging results over the long term.

"We use way too many antibacterial agents," Duberg said, adding that the overuse of products like wipes, soaps and cleansers that contain these substances can lead bacteria to become resistant to our methods of extermination. "I personally believe there isn't anything that good, hot soapy water can't clean," she said [ABC News].

Image: flickr/kaibara87

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