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Healthy Living: News in Health: Fact Buster ...

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cristina
Temuco
Chile
(Zone 9b)

September 16, 2010
1:29 PM

Post #8102591

Q: Does cleaning with antibacterial products reduce illness in your home?

A: No, these products make no difference to illness rates in homes.

f you believe what you see on TV, then your home is under attack.

Every day, countless advertisements remind us that we are in danger of being overrun by harmful germs. Our only salvation, it would seem, is the vast range of antibacterial cleaners that line our supermarket shelves.

But is there is any scientific research to suggest that using these products to clean surfaces in your home will reduce illness?

Infectious diseases expert Dr Michael Whitby says no 'reputable research' has found that using antibacterial products to clean surfaces such as bench tops, bathroom sinks and toilets will cut sickness. (Much of the research into bacteria in the home is funded by the companies that make the antibacterial products.)

"I'm not saying that inanimate surfaces don't spread disease. What I'm saying is that in the close relationship of a household, a lot of it [disease] is spread person to person, and cleaning the inanimate surfaces with an antibacterial cleaner is not going to help," Whitby says.
No difference

Some US research backs Whitby's view. In one study, researchers monitored the rate of common illnesses such as coughs, colds, sore throats, fever or diarrhoea in more than 230 homes that had at least one preschooler.

The households were assigned to two groups; one that used antibacterial cleaning, laundry and handwashing products and another that did not use antibacterial products. The researchers then measured the rate of illnesses in each group and found no difference between the two.

Household illnesses are generally caused by either viruses or bacteria. But antibacterial cleaners only kill bacteria, and many common household illnesses such as colds, stomach bugs etc are caused by viruses. So using these products has little effect on the spread of viral illnesses.

While the advertisers are right when they tell you that your home is full of all kinds of bacteria, this doesn't mean you need to kill them all. It's true, some bacteria cause disease, but many are benign or even beneficial (such as gut bacteria that help us to digest food).

Also antibacterial cleaners will not actually "kill 99 per cent" of bacteria coming into your home, Whitby says, all they can do is reduce the concentration of bacteria on the surfaces you clean. And given how many micro-organisms actually live on a kitchen bench you will still be left with plenty of bugs after you clean.

He also says you need to ask yourself whether certain surfaces even need to be germ-free: "if the germs are down the bottom of the toilet they might as well stay down there, they are not doing anyone any actual harm," he says.

While there is growing concern that overuse of antibacterial cleaners will lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and antibacterial cleaners, Whitby says using these products in the home is probably not a significant contributor to this problem.

Instead his main criticism is that they are "creating added expense for no particular benefit".
Detergent and water

So what should you use to clean the surfaces in your home? Regular detergent and water, the same as is generally used to clean surfaces in hospitals.

However, there are some occasions when hospitals opt for stronger chlorine-based cleaners that are needed to kill viruses for example when there is an outbreak of a highly infectious virus such as norovirus (a common cause of viral diarrhoea that sometimes sweeps through hospitals, cruise ships, childcare centres and nursing homes).

So if you have an outbreak of viral diarrhoea at home, you might want to clean surfaces with a chlorine-based cleaner, such as bleach. But you need to remember that these cleaners may ruin many household surfaces, such as wood, paint, laminate, and fabric.

Far and away the most important thing you should to do stop illness spreading in your home is to wash your hands.

"Handwashing in the community is very poor'" Whitby says, and you are better off to make sure you wash your hands properly than clean your home with antibacterial cleaners.

You need to wash your hands with soap and water, and dry then on a clean towel or paper towels:

* before and after you eat
* after you go to the toilet
* after you blow your nose or cough and sneeze into a tissue
* after touching your mouth, nose and eyes (especially if you have a cold or flu)
* before and after you handle raw food (especially meat)
* if you are caring for someone who is sick.


From ABC Health and Wellbeing.

Dr Michael Whitby is the director of Infection Management Services at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. He spoke to Claudine Ryan.

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