Friday, August 21, 2009

Waxing Poetic about Germs

The Hog, the SWINE... H1N1... (cue dramatic music). Panic panic everywhere. Since I work with preschoolers in a hospital setting I get coughed on, snotted on, spit on, vomited on and even... yes... licked. The nature of my job requires that I play ( closely to these children, down on their level, face to face and close enough that they can see my mouth. I also work with children who have special needs and I have only had TWO clients remember to cough in their sleeve. I am constantly exposed to viruses and germs. As I'm not a fan of needles, I don't get the flu shot and last winter I was sick for WEEKS.

You can imagine, with the flu season fast approaching that the Health Department is gearing into full out panic mode about the possibility of an increase in the H1N1 pandemic. I get daily updates on how Nova Scotia is doing regarding cases, deaths (1 so far) and procedures. I have resisted the urge to run around in circles screaming while I spray everything in sight with disinfectant. Even when they installed about 15 handy wall mounted Purell sanitizer dispensers in our clinic I continued to wash my hands in the sink. Even after we each got our cute little face masks (like I could do speech therapy with a mask covering my mouth). I kept my cool right up until the diseases and infections control lady came to "visit" our clinic this afternoon.

Then I had to explain to my colleague why using one sanitizing agent was discouraged by Ms. Germ Patrol, what "lanolin" was and why Triclosan in the Purell she uses 50 times in her day can be dangerous.

I have never been one to use anti-bacterial soap or hand sanitizer. Mostly due to circumstance; my mother never bought any so neither did I. All my soaps in the past three years have been environmentally (and thus non-triclosan) soaps. Also, I touch my face and mouth a lot which allows me to taste hand sanitizer.... which is disgusting. I had a niggling feeling that anything that stays behind on my hands to kill the germs couldn't be so great for myself or the environment. I'm also not really afraid of germs... eating dirt and such. Not that I actually EAT DIRT, but you know, I think our germophobia has been quite unhealthy recently. The five second rule applies to most edible things in our house. YUMMY.

What IS this Triclosan I keep mentioning?? It's the active ingredient behind all the super-soap's "germ-killing" super powers. It's also finding its' way into our rivers, lakes and water systems and research suggests that approximately 75% makes its way down our drains, unable to be processed by our sewage treatment plants and into the environment. When exposed to sunlight triclosan can create a mild dioxin which is a carcinogenic hormone disruptor that has been shown to bioaccumulate. It's even been found to be used in fertilizing our soil- about 200 tons a year in the U.S (Adria Vasil, Ecoholic 2006). All this and the FDA and American Medical Association both state that using anti-bacterial soaps don't keep infections as bay any better than regular soap (See page 4 of AMA Summaries and Recommendations of Scientific Affairs Report, 2000).

Still not convinced? Check out this post by an Environmental Toxicologist reviewing recent research demonstrating these non-useful chemicals showing up in breast milk. Start reading a few labels, triclosan can be found in so many random products.... from facial cleanser to toothpaste!
Skin Deep's cosmetic safety database rates triclosan as a 7: high hazard. It has been linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, dioxin and chloroform contamination, irritation of eyes and skin amongst others. Supposedly it has been prohibited in Canadian cosmetics and has been shown to persistently bioaccumulate in wildlife (increasing as you go up the food chain... to us!).

I know all this, and yet I have little choice with what to wash my hands, clinical toys and table with at work. It felt extremely strange to be spraying all these chemicals over every single surface of my office and washing my hands with the wonderful bacti-stat, triclosan soap. I even politely suggested during an Occupational Health and Safety Survey that I would prefer non-triclosan soap in the bathrooms... with no response lol.

And yet, as the Germ Lady waxed poetic about the benefits of anti-bacterial soap, hand washing, coughing in your sleeve (as if ANY of my clients are capable of remembering to pre-emptively do that) and dousing your office with chemicals all I kept thinking of was my spitting, coughing, licking, vomiting clients... Not so sure I can prevent THAT.

Moral of my story: Triclosan and Anti-bacterial soaps are evil.... convincing the Infectious Diseases lady of this.... a waste of energy.

Happy Weekend and wish us luck here in Halifax with Hurricane Bill!

Article authored by EcoYogini at


  1. What I'd do, if I weren't so goldarned lazy, is find out exactly how many people have died of H1N1 since it started back in March or April or whenever, then add the total numbers of deaths from West Nile, Bird Flu, SARS, and the other big pandemic scares of the past decade or so, and then compare the number I get to the that of people who've died from cigarettes or car accidents during the same period of time...or even how many have died from those causes in the past week. I'm guessing the dramatic music behind H1N1 would get a good deal softer....

    So, no antibacterial soap for me.

  2. I haven't had a chance to read your post yet...but I will...just wanted to let you know...

  3. I'd do what YfC would do too...I am SUPREMELY suspicious of all this panic-mongering....

    ....I use surgical scrub-soap at work and it leaves me with terrible contact dermatitis...

    I was just reading a novel where some nuns were washing their hands with vinegar during the time of the bubonic plague...makes you wonder if there isn't anything less damaging that would be just as effective....

    great post!!

  4. I think the Swine Flu hype is ridiculous (this was my take on it back in April:

    I'm also really anti-fear-of-germs. I'm of the "the-more-I-get-dirtier" the more I'll be immune. It's worked really well so far. In the meantime, I'll poke my head around and see if I can find any info on Anusara near you...or at least podcasts and reading info.

    Great post!

  5. I'm so with you on this stuff. I do not get flu shots, and I get really mad about the fear factor used to induce people to get these shots. Sure, some should have this shot, but it isn't NECESSARY for everyone. (BTW, I worry about the possibility for viral mutations when we are vaccinating against everything, and using anti-bacterial soap/spray all over the place...that can't be good!)

  6. Thanks for all this info, I never even knew about Triclosan being in anti-bacterial sanitizers...I never use the stuff either because I always felt it was excessive, but very interesting to know.

    I used to work at a daycare and also got sick often. One thing that I found that really helped was taking a homeopathic remedy for prevention or acute treatment if need be. A couple of companies make them, although Mucococcinum by Genestra(mew-koh-cox-EYE-num) and Oscillococcinum by Boiron(oh-sill-oh-cox-EYE-num)are both really popular, as is Influenzinum, which many homeopathic companies put out.

    Be well!

  7. Posted a little bloggy love for you! XXX

  8. Thanks for blogging about the dangers of triclosan!

    Food & Water Watch is working to ban the non-medical uses of triclosan. We're encouraging folks to learn more about triclosan and pledge to avoid using products that contain triclosan.

    If you want to take the pledge and wash your hands of triclosan visit:


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