Sep 152004
Authors: Stephanie Lindberg

They are on the table. They are on the floor. They are on the

keyboards in every computer lab.

Bacteria are everywhere, and antibacterial soaps are, too.

“(I use antibacterial soap) just because I assume it would kill

germs better than a non-antibacterial,” said Michael Idoni, a

sophomore open-option major.

But combating bacteria with antibacterial soap could do more

harm than good in the long run, said Erica Suchman, an associate

professor of microbiology at CSU.

“When you’re washing your hands you are just removing the

microbes, not killing them,” Suchman said. “You don’t need to kill


Suchman said people need to wash their hands correctly to be


“Washing for 20 seconds will remove the microbes,” she said.

“They are easy to wash off. (Washing correctly is) the number one

thing to do to prevent getting sick during cold and flu


Suchman’s tips for correctly washing hands include washing for

20 seconds using plain soap and water, washing between fingers and

around fingernails, and using tissue to shut off the water and open

the door.

The problem is not so much the use of antibacterial soaps but

the effect they could have on antibiotics. Antibiotics are the

ingested drugs used to combat bacterial infection inside the


“There is a crossover due to the constant contact with

triclosan, the antibacterial that is used in soaps,” Suchman said.

“(Antibiotics) will be less effective. Bacteria will pick up

plasmids. Bacteria will get resistant if the pressure is there to

keep the gene to reject the antibacterial soap.”

Constant contact between bacteria and triclosan could make

combating some diseases, such as pseudomonas aeruginosa, a burn

infection, more difficult.

“It’s not a problem for healthy adults, but pseudomonas grows in

the burns of burn victims,” Suchman said. “It is growing a

resistance to antibiotics.”

So far there are no documented cases of resistance, but it is

showing up in lab tests.

“We are seeing drug resistance (in labs),” Suchman said. “We’re

worried. We’re not seeing it right now (in clinics), but we know it

could be a problem.”

Herbert Schweizer, a professor in the Department of

Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, said the use of chemicals

such as triclosan have been shown in laboratory studies to

stimulate a drug resistance in the bacteria.

“Theoretically, triclosan could cause resistance to

antibiotics,” Schweizer said. “Though there is no clinical


In the past, triclosan was not considered a problem, Schweizer

said. The amount of triclosan used in soaps is not very high, but

it is very active.

“Antibiotics go through a rigorous process to get approved,”

Schweizer said.

In the labs, Schweizer said it has been noticed that the

bacteria have become resistant to the triclosan, and that has

spawned a multi-drug resistance. This same occurrence has happened

with antibiotics. While the bacteria that are killed will not

create a resistance, the bacteria that survive will.

Antibacterial soaps can be useful in places where cleanliness is


“There’s some places where you can’t be careful enough, like

hospitals,” Schweizer said.

If people want to be safe, Schweizer suggests an alcohol-based

hand lotion as a safer alternative to triclosan soaps because the

alcohol evaporates while the soap is left in on the hands.

Jeff Sutton, the building services manager at CSU, said the

university uses non-antimicrobial soaps except in certain areas,

such as food service venues. Sutton said in the academic and

administrative buildings the soap is a “gentle, light-duty hand


“The public has long demanded antibacterial soaps,” Sutton said.

“In certain places it’s required, such as food service.”

There is one main reason that companies market so many

antibacterial products, from soaps to cutting boards.

“It’s big money,” Suchman said. “People think they need it.”

Schweizer agreed.

“Triclosan isn’t worth the extra price,” Schweizer said. “It

gives people a false sense of security that you don’t have to wash

your hands.”

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