Starter Questions:

What is the scientific justification for the use of antibacterial surfaces for consumer products?

What are the effects and consequences of triclosan and similar substances in our consumer products and in our built environment?

Triclosan found to increase resistance to antibiotics

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Commonly used in a $1.4 billion dollar consumer industry consisting of products such as toothpaste, socks, soaps, and baby toys, the antimicrobial triclosan has been found to increase antibiotic resistance and decrease antibiotic efficacy by almost 100 fold, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis. The study reported that triclosan increased E. coli and MRSA antibacterial tolerance by almost 10,000 fold in vitro and almost 100 fold in vivo. While normally only one in a million bacterial cells survive antibiotics, triclosan enables the development of antibiotic-resistant cells, resulting in a shift where one in 10 bacterial cells can now survive antibiotics.

This is problematic, as almost 75% of adults in the US displayed detectable levels of triclosan in their urine, with more than 10% meeting the inhibitory concentrations of triclosan for E. coli and MRSA. Researchers conclude that the use of triclosan in consumer products must be reevaluated, as the continued use of triclosan and other bacteriostatic compounds in consumer products such as sanitizer and soap perpetuates antibiotic resistance, a growing problem around the world.

Source: Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy

WHO policy brief regarding antibiotics in consumer goods

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Developed in response to the increasing challenge of antibiotic resistance, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s latest policy brief on antibiotic resistance explores the social factors behind antibiotic resistance and how neglecting such factors acts as one of the greatest barriers to tackling this challenge worldwide. This policy brief examines how the cultural contexts of health are critical in implementing the One Health policy approach for tackling antimicrobial resistance.

For example, the “treat hard, treat long” mantra in approaching bacterial infections was established in a different historical and cultural context, and this is no longer supported by strong evidence nor necessarily appropriate for today’s AMR challenge. As a result, the belief that bacteria should be killed with antibiotics to treat infections needs to be re-evaluated given today’s growing knowledge on antibiotics, microbial life forms and human-microbe relationships. And within community settings, researchers have found that antibacterial agents in household products - such as the antimicrobial triclosan found in most liquid hand soaps - can contribute to cross resistance, so in cultures of hygiene, the impact of domestic hygiene and cleaning on AMR must be considered. 

Source: World Health Organization

With the growing body of evidence against triclosan in consumer products, the FDA has already started to take action, banning the marketing of over-the-counter antibacterial hand and body wash products containing triclosan and triclocarban.

Source: US Food and Drug Administration

FDA bans triclosan and triclocarban in consumer goods