Antimicrobial Soaps Do More Harm Than Good in Fight Against “Superbugs,” Scientist Says

Triclosan is primary culprit

Dr. Katherine Baker of Pennsylvania State University and other microbiologists have been warning for years that antibacterial soaps containing triclosan contribute to the spread of drug-resistant “superbugs.” Triclosan also affects hormones and can disrupt the endocrine cycle.

In September 2016, the FDA banned the use of triclosan and a related product, triclocarban, from consumer soaps and wash products. But triclosan is also incorporated in cosmetics, kitchen utensils, clothing, and even bowling balls—22,000 consumer products in all. The FDA rules do not yet apply to those products.

“For the past decade, microbiologists have been speaking about entering a post-antibiotic era,” Baker said. “People will start dying again of diseases they died of before antibiotics. We took this amazing discovery and abused it, and now it won’t work. Now we have strains of bacteria that you have to hit with a two-by-four.”

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) killed more people last year than acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of thousands of people die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections, and common diseases, such as urinary-tract infections and pneumonia, are becoming harder and harder to treat.

For her research, Baker used the “gray water” that comes from household sinks and washing machines. This water contains triclosan from detergents and soaps, and is often used for irrigation. She sprayed it on soil, and then studied the microorganisms in the soil. Within three months, many of the microbes had developed resistance to tetracycline, a commonly used antibiotic.

The United Nations General Assembly recently passed a declaration asking countries to come up with a two-year plan to protect the potency of antibiotics. Baker applauds the measure, but says it should have happened 15 years ago.

“Antibiotics should be used discriminately,” she said.

Baker believes that it’s not too late to reverse the trend. She points to Denmark, which has prohibited routine feeding of antibiotics to animals and restricted prescriptions. Scientists there have already noticed a reduction in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“I can think of nothing more fascinating in the world than microorganisms,” Baker said. “If all the people in the world died, life would go on. But if microbes died, there would be no more life. They’re the coolest creatures on the face of the earth.”

Source: Medical Xpress; February 20, 2017.