Study: Antibacterial Fabrics a Washout

But critic pooh-poohs findings

MONDAY, May 21, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Antibacterial products are in everything from toothpaste to toilet seats, and some manufacturers are trying to put them into healthcare products used in hospitals. But, would an antibacterial hospital gown or an antibacterial seat cover keep you healthier?

Not really, say researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. In fact, they say such products could even contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Bilgé Kalyon and Ugorsoy Olgun, both undergraduates at Stevens at the time of the study, examined the use of the antibacterial triclosan in fabrics and found that while the chemical initially destroys some bacteria, it doesn't kill a significant amount over time.

"Triclosan inhibits the growth of bacteria at first, but after time that inhibition is lifted," says Kalyon. If people expect triclosan to kill bacteria, and it doesn't, healthcare workers "might unwittingly expose people to pathogens they would assume wouldn't be there," she says.

Kalyon and Olgun put triclosan into polyesterene, a compound often used in professional healthcare products. The amount of triclosan they used is more than what is normally incorporated into such products, says Kalyon.

The researchers then exposed the polyesterene to two different types of bacteria -- a strain of Escherichia coli and another bacterium that usually repels insects. They checked the samples at one, three and 20 hours to see how much the bacteria had grown, compared to a control sample. Some strains of E. coli can cause severe stomach distress, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and in vulnerable patients, can damage internal organs and even cause death.

At first, the triclosan sample reduced growth of bacteria, but by 20 hours, that sample had as much bacteria as the control material.

The findings appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

New York University microbiologist, Philip Tierno, says the study has some serious flaws. "They used an absurdly high concentration of bacteria. What they're suggesting is analogous to taking human feces and expecting triclosan to disinfect the contaminated surface," he says.

Tierno says products containing triclosan can be useful when used as intended. He says cutting boards are a great example because they get small cracks and crevices. Triclosan incorporated into cutting boards eventually kill any bacteria lurking in those small fissures, where soap and water don't reach, Tierno says.

Tierno also says triclosan has been used for 30 years, without any evidence that it has caused any type of antibiotic resistance.

What To Do

Tierno says triclosan could be used in hospitals where blood splatters, such as on surgical sheets and paper products, or anywhere that decontamination on a continual basis would be useful.

This article from Science News describes how triclosan could help develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria, while this article from the University of Chicago Hospital and Health System examines the possible benefits of triclosan. Also, for an overview of E. coli and its dangers, check here.

These articles from HealthDay report on recent studies on triclosan.

SOURCES: Interviews with Bilgé Kalyon, undergraduate student, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.; Philip Tierno, Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology and immunology, New York University Medical Center, New York City; April 2001 American Journal of Infection Control
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