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1 July 2013
Antibacterial soaps may be harming newborns

Mom's prolonged use of antibacterial soaps containing the chemical triclocarban could affect her baby's early development, say researchers at the University of Tennessee. The study, which was conducted on rats, showed that exposure to triclocarban reduced the survival rates of the baby rodents.

Researchers Rebekah Kennedy and Jiangang Chen conducted an earlier study that examined how prolonged exposure to triclocarban affected the growth of sex organs in adult male rats. Kennedy decided to go a step further and look into how it would affect baby rats in the womb and during nursing.

Humans are exposed to triclocarban through skin absorption. Based on how the compound is biotransformed, oral exposure in rats is similar to dermal exposure for humans, Kennedy explained. Pregnant rats fed with triclocarban through food had similar blood concentrations compared to human blood concentrations after a 15-minute shower using antibacterial soap.

The study found that triclocarban did not affect the post-birth survival rate of baby rats exposed to the compound in the womb. But baby rats nursed by mothers that were exposed to the compound did not survive beyond the sixth day after birth. The results, said Kennedy, showed that a mother's long-term use and exposure to triclocarban could affect her baby's early development.

Humans may be exposed to triclocarban through other ways besides skin absorption, including produce consumption, Chen added. Triclocarban is washed down the drain, where about 95 percent of it is removed when wastewater is treated. The remainder may still be a problem, particularly since treated wastewater is used for agricultural purposes.

"People have to weigh their own risks and decide what would be the best route," Kennedy said. "There's always a time and place for antibacterial bar soaps, such as in health care settings where the chance of infection and transmission is high. For the average person, antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap."

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Source: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

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