Germicidal Wipes Can Spread Bacteria
It's All in How You Swipe, Says Study Examining Antibacterial Products
June 3, 2008 -- Just how effective are those disinfecting wipes and hand
sanitizers for preventing disease? Two newly reported studies that asked the
question have come to different conclusions.
In a study that focused solely on wipes, researchers concluded that instead
of preventing hospital-acquired infections like methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) the wipes could actually be spreading bacteria
when used improperly by hospital staffers.
But another study, reported Monday in the journal Pediatrics,
suggests that frequent use of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers in the
classroom can reduce school absenteeism caused by bacterial and viral
Disinfecting wipes and alcohol-based hand gels are now widely used in
hospitals, schools, and other public settings to kill the pathogens that cause
Americans now spend an estimated $1 billion a year on these and other
antibacterial products, but their direct impact on the spread of infectious
disease is not well understood.
(Do you use antibacterial
wipes? Do you think they work? Why or why not? Talk with others on WebMD's
Parenting: Preschoolers and Grade Schoolers board.)
Wipes Can Spread Bacteria
About 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur each year in the United States,
according to the CDC, and the vast majority of these infections occur in
hospitals and other health-care settings.
Disinfectant wipes are among the products used in such settings in an effort
to prevent the spread of MRSA and other infectious pathogens.
But in a study presented today in Boston at the annual meeting of the
American Society for Microbiology, researchers from Cardiff University's Welsh
School of Pharmacy reported that when used improperly the wipes may spread
bacteria rather than remove or kill them.
Researchers Jean-Yves Maillard, PhD, Gareth Williams, PhD, and colleagues
observed hospital staffers as they used the wipes to disinfect hospital
"We saw that there was a tendency to use one wipe on consecutive
surfaces, such as bed rails, computer monitors, and keyboards," Williams
The researchers used the wipes in this way in laboratory tests designed to
measure their ability to remove and kill the bacteria that cause staph
infections, including MRSA.
While most of the wipes tested did remove large numbers of bacteria from
contaminated surfaces, they also commonly transferred live bacteria to
uncontaminated surfaces when used in more than one place. Even some wipes that
claimed to kill bacteria were found to transfer live bacteria from one surface
to another, the researchers report.
"Many of the wipes were effective, but the message is that they have to
be used properly," Williams says.
That means using one swipe per wipe on a single surface, Maillard tells
Targeting Germs in the Classroom
and stomach bugs result in millions of lost school days each year.
Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of
infectious illness, but new research suggests that commercially available hand
sanitizers and disinfecting wipes can also help reduce the spread of infectious
disease in schools.