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Study: Germ-fighting chemical could create harmful bacteria

Most germ-fighting products contain triclosan  
August 5, 1998
Web posted at: 11:31 p.m. EDT (0331 GMT)

From Food and Health Correspondent Holly Firfer

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Scientists have a warning for those who use popular antibacterial products that contain the germ-fighting agent triclosan.

"It could backfire by changing the kind of bacteria in our houses to those that may actually be harmful," said Dr. Stuart Levy of Tufts University.

A new study in the journal Nature reports that the chemical triclosan, found in most antibacterial products, may cause some bacteria to mutate and create new strains that are resistant to antibacterial chemicals.

"The antibacterial remains in the home in some level, and it can continue to have an effect on the bacteria out there so they become resistant," Levy said. "Now if you ever do need it, you may not be able to use it."

Scientists say triclosan may cause bacteria to mutate and create new, more harmful strains  

Scientists worry that years of repeated use of triclosan-containing products could breed bacteria that could threaten those with compromised immune systems, including children and the elderly.

The fear of bacteria-related illnesses, from E. coli to salmonella, has fueled a growing demand for antibacterial products. Anti-germ products range from soaps and toothpaste to children's toys. But creating a bacteria-free home may be futile.

"You can't sterilize your home," Levy said. "There are millions and millions of bacteria out there. You're just replacing some with others, and we don't know what the others are."

But some say antibacterial products are safe.

"[The Food and Drug Administration] has recognized that triclosan is safe for use in consumer products," said Stacey Zawel of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, "so we know that it is, in fact, safe."

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta say the best protection from harmful bacteria is still just plain old soap and water.

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