US health advisers say anti-bacterial soaps no better than plain ones

Anti-bacterial soaps and washes aren't any better than plain, old soap and water for fighting illness in the household, says a panel of federal health advisers. They warned manufacturers they will have to prove their products' benefits or they may be restricted from marketing them.

Dr. Alastair Wood, chairman of the panel which met Thursday to advise the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, said he saw no reason to purchase anti-bacterial products, given they generally cost more than soap.

The advisers also worried the potential risks of the products, particularly the common hand soaps and body washes that use synthetic chemicals, create an environmental hazard and could contribute to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

"I think we're seeing a lot of sentiment against (antibacterials) being marketed to the consumer" unless they can show some added benefit over regular soap and water, said Dr. Mary E. Tinetti, a member of the panel.

Industry representatives contend their products are safe and more effective than conventional soaps, because they kill germs instead of just washing them off. They said consumers should have a right to choose their products in a free market.

Their products have grown significantly in popularity in the last decade, as consumers decided killing germs was better than simply washing them down the drain.

But the FDA said controlled studies found no significant difference in infections in households using anti-bacterial products and those with regular soap and water.

On Thursday, the agency's Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Panel, composed of independent experts, recommended no specific regulatory action against the manufacturers, but called on the FDA to study the products' risks versus their benefits, the AP says.

The agency has the authority to order warning labels on the products or place restrictions on how they are marketed to the public. Susan Johnson, associate director of nonprescription products for the FDA, said the agency would pay close attention to the panel's concerns.

FDA officials and panelists raised concerns about whether the antibacterials contribute to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, and said the agency has not found any medical studies that definitively linked specific anti-bacterial products to reduced infection rates.