Use of Household Cleaning Products with Antibacterial Ingredients Did Not Reduce Symptoms of Infection. Ann Intern Med. 2004;140:I-30. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-140-5-200403020-00001
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(5):I-30.
Infectious diseases (infections) are illnesses that result when certain bacteria or viruses invade the body. Most infections that occur in the general community are not serious, but they can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, or skin rashes. Because infections can keep people from their usual activities, including work or school, it is important to prevent them whenever possible. In recent years, the availability of household cleaning products containing antibacterial ingredients has increased. Although manufacturers claim that these products offer health benefits, evidence linking the use of antibacterial products to better health for the people who use them has been lacking. It is important to note that many common infections, including the common cold, are due to viruses, not bacteria. Antibacterial products are made to kill bacteria, not viruses.
To find out whether people who live in households that use antibacterial cleaning products have fewer infections than people who live in households that use cleaning products without antibacterial ingredients.
238 households in an inner-city neighborhood of Manhattan that had at least one preschool-age child living in the house.
The researchers assigned each household to use either antibacterial or regular products for general cleaning, laundry, and handwashing for 1 year. Each household was provided with a free supply of the assigned type of cleaning products. The regular products were exactly the same as the antibacterial ones except for the ingredients added to kill bacteria. The researchers collected information on cleaning practices and infectious disease symptoms by weekly telephone calls, monthly visits, and extensive interviews every 3 months. The symptoms they asked about were fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, and red eyes in any family member. They then compared the number of months that one or more family members had infectious disease symptoms in each group of households.
The most commonly reported symptoms were cough and runny nose, then sore throat and fever, then vomiting and diarrhea, and finally rashes or eye symptoms. No differences were reported in symptoms between households that used antibacterial products and those that did not.
The reports of infectious disease symptoms were from patient reports. It is possible that people were not accurate in reporting their symptoms. In addition, the study may not have been large enough to detect small differences in infectious symptoms between the 2 groups.
Antibacterial household cleaning products do not seem to reduce the number of infections among household residents, an expected finding because viruses, not bacteria, account for most household infections.
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