You may have noticed an increase in anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizers in your local grocery store, school, doctor’s office and hospital. Put in place for the protection of consumers and providers alike, both wipes and gels may not be near as effective as you have been led to believe, and they are useless in fighting superbugs like MRSA.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning yesterday to consumers, as well as sending Warning Letters to four companies who make claims that their products prevent infection with MRSA. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a bacterium that can cause severe—even life-threatening—infections that do not respond to standard treatment with the antibiotic methicillin.
“Staphylococcus aureus itself is a very aggressive organism,” says Edward Cox, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Antimicrobial Products. “It’s often associated with patients in hospitals who have weakened immune systems, but the bacterium can also cause significant skin infections and abscesses in a normal, healthy person. And it can get into the bloodstream and, less frequently, may involve the heart valve, which is very difficult to treat.”
In 2008, researchers at the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University used a three-step process to determine how well antibacterial wipes removed, killed and prevented the transfer of bacteria between surfaces. They tested three different types of commercially available wipes on surfaces contaminated with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The wipes contained either traditional disinfectants or detergents or natural antimicrobial substances, such as those extracted from plants. The team found that the natural antimicrobial wipes removed the most bacteria from surfaces, while the disinfectant wipes did the best job of destroying bacteria, but did not get them all. However, using a wipe on more than one surface, increases the likelihood that it will be ineffective, as cross-contamination can occur.
Consumers were advised:
- Don’t buy over-the-counter hand sanitizers or other products that claim to prevent infection from MRSA, E. coli, Salmonella, flu, or other bacteria or viruses.
- Ask your pharmacist or other health care professional for help in distinguishing between reliable and questionable information on product labels and company websites.
- In general, wash hands often, especially before handling food, to help avoid getting sick. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. For children, this means the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
- If you find products on the Internet that you believe make false or unproven claims, tell FDA by following the instructions at Reporting Unlawful Sales on Internet.
- Report side effects that you think may be related to using hand sanitizers or other medical products to FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting Program either online, by regular mail, by fax, or by phone.
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