Health experts have called for the banning of common brands of anti-bacterial hand washes sold in Australia amid concerns they could be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already moved to outlaw the use of a range of chemicals in the products, warning there was no evidence that antibacterial soaps were any better at killing germs than soap and water.
Australian health regulators are being urged to follow the US’s lead.
“A lot of these agents don’t remove all the bacteria on our skin,” Cheryl Jones, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Sydney and president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said.
“Hand hygiene is important and we shouldn’t think that it isn’t, but what we’re saying is we can achieve hand hygiene by washing our hands simply with plain soap and water.”
In the United States the FDA’s ban applies to soap products containing any one or more of different active ingredients — including triclosan, used in liquid soaps, and triclocarban, used in soap bars.
Professor Lindsay Grayson, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Austin Health, said the ban applied to a range of new products that were now available.
“Many of which recommend using this medicated soaps with water,” he said.Professor Ben Howden, director of the Doherty Institute’s Microbiological Diagnostic Unit, said he was concerned that the ongoing use of antibacterial handwashes and other products could encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant super bugs.
“From my point of view as an infectious disease expert, we’re very worried about antibiotic resistance and the more antibacterials are exposed to bacteria, the higher the risk of them developing resistance,” he said.
“They also have adverse effects on hormonal development and some of the agents found in these products have been found in breast milk.”
Ban does not affect products used in hospitals
Professor Grayson is also director of Hand Hygiene Australia, a national initiative set up to help implement and monitor recommendations from the World Health Organisation.
He pointed out that the US ban only applied to products sold to the general public and did not affect those used in health care facilities.
“What they’ve banned is a bunch of chemicals which have been added to soaps that are being sold in supermarkets and does not apply to alcohol-based hand rubs or the sort of waterless hand rubs that we use in hospitals,” Professor Grayson said.
In Australia the regulation of anti-bacterial soap products sold to the public through shops and supermarkets is the responsibility of the state and federal health authorities.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) also has a role in the regulation process, along with the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme.
The TGA confirmed it was reviewing the FDA’s ruling.