Dutch health council: antibacterial products can make you sick

Liquid soap. Photo: Depositphotos.
Avoid disinfecting soap at home. Photo: Depositphotos.

Disinfecting soaps and gels should not be widely used at home, according to a new report from the Health Council of the Netherlands.

The independent scientific advisory body warns that disinfecting products must only be used where they are really necessary, due to concerns about killing ‘good’ bacteria, while other bacteria develop more antibiotic resistance – making sickness more likely.

Used wisely, they make a ‘significant contribution to preventing infections (and disease) in humans and animals,’ says the council. For example, it adds, in stopping food spoiling or medical equipment becoming contaminated.

‘But there are also uses where a need has not been demonstrated,’ says a press release on Wednesday. ‘In the home, people are increasingly using more disinfecting products in clothes, soap, toothpaste and mouthwash. For health reasons, this is usually not necessary.

‘These agents can kill bacteria that are important for good health. Disinfection in the home is only useful for people with specific medical needs, in general in temporary situations (nursing the seriously ill or oral infections).’

In the case of highly-infectious MRSA bacteria, disinfection at home is also recommended. But otherwise, the body says, overuse can threaten public health because bacteria get stronger and antibiotics become less effective.

Hospital over-use?

The report adds that washing intensive-care patients every day with chlorhexidine and routinely disinfecting the floors, walls and ceilings in hospitals may not be a good idea either.

It advises the government to begin tracking the use of disinfectants and scale of anti-bacterial resistance – something that is already done in the case of prescribed antibiotics.

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