Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Germ Circus in Boston

Disclosure time: I have been a loyal dues-paying journal-reading member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) since my first year in grad school (1982). Besides being the oldest professional life science organization in the world, one really needs to be a member to be considered a true card-carrying microbiologist. But with the press releases that come out of the annual General Meeting (GM), one really has to wonder who in the world is running the ASM Press Office, some contractor? Its embarrassing. The releases coming out of this meeting have been so shallow and silly over the last five years or so that it is becoming a spring event to try and guess just how ridiculous the next one will be. You might remember that just a couple of years ago the big news out of the GM was that paper money is dirty. Wow, now why don't we write that one up for PNAS.

The 2008 GM just finished-up this week in Boston and the big news is that so-called antibacterial wipes, the wonder drug for any mother with young children and pretty darn nifty for the rest of us, can actually spread that dreaded beast from the Cheney-Halliburton-NSA conspiracy---MRSA. Who would have thought!!! So antibacterial wipes are a fomite for infection just like the rag your waitress used to use to wipe your restaurant table with a few short years ago was too until the health department got smart and required restaurateurs to store their rags in a dilute bleach solution. So why aren't hospital infection control officers doing the same thing for cleaning up hospital rooms and equipment? You really can't get much cheaper or efficient than good old bleach.

Antibacterial wipes generally contain a mild soap and some type of disinfectant. Since most of these are for use on human skin, the chemical of choice is usually some type of quaternary ammonium compound. Think Zephrin in a moist towlette. I would hope that the hospital variety that would be used by the house keeping staff are a bit more robust, but the bottom line is that these things are single use only and if they are used properly say to clean only one piece of equipment in one room at a time, then where is the story?


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