FDA panel considers merits and potential problems of anti-bacterial soaps - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

FDA panel considers merits and potential problems of anti-bacterial soaps

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) - Antibacterial soaps and body washes in the household aren't any more effective in reducing illness than regular soap, and could potentially contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, experts told a government advisory panel Thursday.

The independent panel, the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, advises the Food and Drug Administration. Panelists were to vote later Thursday whether they believed such soaps provided any benefits above regular soap for people outside of health care.

The FDA is not bound by their decisions but often follows their advice. The agency has the authority to add warning labels to or restrict the availability of such soaps and related items, but it has given no indication any such ruling is imminent.

Representatives of the soap industry argue antibacterials are safe and more effective than regular soap.

"The importance of controlling bacteria in the home is no different than the professional setting," said Elizabeth Anderson, associate general counsel for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. "We feel strongly that consumers must continue to have the choice to use these products."

In documents, FDA officials have raised concerns about whether the antibacterials contribute to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, and said the agency has not found any medical studies that definitively linked specific anti-bacterial products to reduced infection rates.

The committee was told that "there's a lack of evidence that antiseptic soaps provide a benefit beyond plain soap," said Allison E. Aiello, an assistant professor at the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, citing a series of studies in the United States and Pakistan.

Both kinds of soaps reduced infections in households, but neither one worked better than the other, she said.

The popularity of antibacterials has skyrocketed in the last decade as consumers decided killing bacteria in the home was better than just washing them off.

Anti-bacterial products kill most of the bacteria they encounter. Regular soap helps separate bacteria from the skin so it washes down the drain, or transfers to a towel.

But Dr. Stuart B. Levy, president of the Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics, said laboratory studies have suggested the soaps sometimes leave behind bacteria that have a better ability to flush threatening substances - from anti-bacterial soap chemicals to antibiotics - from their system.

"What we're seeing is evolution in action," he said.

He advocates restricting anti-bacterial products from consumer use, leaving them for hospitals and homes with very sick people, where he says they are needed most.

"Bacteria are not going to be destroyed," he said. "They've seen dinosaurs come and go. They will be happy to see us come and go. Any attempt to sterilize our home is fraught with failure."

Levy said overuse of antibiotics is the main cause of bacteria developing resistance to them. He acknowledged that a yearlong study showed that homes using anti-bacterial soaps did not show an increase in resistant bacteria in significant numbers. But he argued the soaps will still contribute to resistance over a longer period.

Antibacterials use alcohol, bleach or synthetic chemicals. Levy, a professor of medicine and molecular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine, had particular criticism for those using synthetic chemicals, which he said remain in the environment instead of breaking down.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Powered by Frankly