Antibacterial wipes may spread bacteria

Antibacterial wipes which have become increasingly popular in many homes, nursing homes, schools and hospitals, may not it seems be the answer when it comes to getting rid of dangerous bacteria.

In fact according to new research they may even do more harm than good.

A team of researchers at Cardiff University in Wales suggest such wipes may not be the ultimate answer in hygiene and might even spread, rather than kill, bacteria.

The researchers from the University's School of Pharmacy conducted tests on the effectiveness of three different types of antibacterial wipes containing either traditional disinfectants, detergents or natural antimicrobial substances extracted from plants.

The team led by microbiologist Dr. Gareth Williams used the wipes to clean surfaces that had been severely contaminated with notorious bacteria including the "superbug" MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

MRSA has become an increasing worry in many hospitals in the developed world and a community acquired version is also causing concern.

The study found that natural antimicrobial wipes removed the most bacteria from surfaces, while disinfectant wipes did the best job of killing bacteria.

However the researchers also found that all of the dirty wipes, including those with the disinfectant, still had some bacteria remaining on them and when they were reused, the wipes just transported the bacteria to another location.

Dr. Williams says ideally the wipes need to kill what they remove and he recommends that one wipe is applied in one application to one surface, and then discarded which would possibly prevent the transfer of bacteria to different surfaces.

For the study, conditions in the bacteria-filled environment of a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) were established, where as a rule the levels of potentially dangerous bacteria are controlled by disinfection where as many microscopic bacteria as possible are removed.

Experts say disinfection differs from sterilization in that it is not designed to kill all organisms, but rather to simply reduce the number of organisms on a surface.

They say the human body is designed to handle a certain number of bacteria and complete sterilization is unnecessary, especially in homes, which are much less contaminated than a hospital ICU.

Experts say too many antibacterial agents are currently in use and the overuse of products such as wipes, soaps and cleansers can lead bacteria developing a resistant to methods of elimination.

They advise people to be careful in their use of antibacterial wipes to avoid spreading bacteria around their homes and on highly contaminated surfaces such as in the bathroom and kitchen to discard wipes after they have been used on one surface.

Experts say in the hospital scenario surfaces are not the primary source of bacteria that infect patients, and other patients and health care workers are the culprits when it comes to spreading the most bacteria.

The hands remain the best transfer vehicle for bacteria from patient to patient and the most important rule of hygiene is to wash the hands regularly and thoroughly.

The research was presented this week at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting in Boston.

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