Tag Archives: soap

Antibacterial soap

Ever wonder why soap companies label their products “antibacterial” instead of “antibiotic”?  OK, probably not.  But this is not just trivia, folks — the explanation can help us address the rather pressing problem of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. So if this post is too boring now, at least consider returning when you are dying in a hospital bed from an untreatable bacterial infection.  It will seem more important then.

colin purrington photography: Blog photos &emdash; antibacterial-soap

So the answer is that I think soap manufacturers have figured out that using “antibacterial” is much clearer than using “antibiotic” — consumers have zero expectation that antibacterial soaps kill fungi, viruses, or protozoans.  That’s because to most people antibiotics have a broad range of action (Google definition; Wikipedia entry).  So soap companies avoid this confusion by specifying “antibacterial,” and their usage has clearly caught on.  As proof, please see the graph below to see how people search for information about such soaps online.  The blue line, which shows the number of people searching Google for “antibacterial soap” is vastly higher than the red line, which shows “antibiotic soap” searches.

Antibiotic soaps on Google Trends

I make the above points not to highlight how great soap companies are, but rather to show pharmaceutical companies, physicians, and health organizations that if they’d adopt “antibacterial” as way to describe antibacterial drugs, the public would fall in line. Currently all these groups love using the word “antibiotic,” and when I’ve suggested to them that they should switch, they respond politely, “You have wasted our valuable time with this crackpot suggestion” (I’m paraphrasing).  They firmly believe the word “antibiotic” is not causing the public confusion.  I think they haven’t really thought about how misnomers work on the brain — they truly do influence people’s perceptions. I also believe that they haven’t searched Google for the definition of “antibiotic”, and that they haven’t looked at the Wikipedia entry (links above).  I fully admit that word “antibiotic” doesn’t confuse microbiologists or physicians, but those people make up a rather small proportion of the world’s population.  The remaining people are justifiably confused about the specificity of “antibiotics,” and that’s why they tend to demand antibacterials from their doctors for viral infections. For example, many people use Google to research specificity of antibiotics; they never search for specificity of antibacterial (see graph in a new window). Getting rid of “antibiotics” should be a no-brainer for anyone concerned with the over-prescription of antibacterials.

So I’m looking for just one medical association, one non-profit, or one pharmaceutical company brave enough to abandon “antibiotic”.  It would be good press, and it would help fight the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria.

Please see, “Curbing the misuse of antibiotics” for further information if you are concerned with evolution of antibacterial-resistant strains of bacteria. My theme, again, is that simply deleting “antibiotic” is an insanely easy thing we could all do.

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Reducing disease transmission with signage

Just trying to do my part to make the world a safer place.  Print the PDF of the signage below and tape or glue in a bathroom near you.  In my experience, signs printed onto label paper look more official and thus have a longer half-life before being discovered by the bathroom signage czars. To see actual signage in use at a Swarthmore College bathroom, please refer to my previous post, “Dangerous bathroom design.”

Bathroom signage to reduce disease transmission

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Dangerous bathroom design

Flu season is coming, so here are some photographs to highlight one of my pet peeves, bathroom design that promotes disease transmission.  I post with the hope that somebody with true influence over architects will someday link to this post.  My pet peeve: bathroom doors hinged in a way that require people to touch the handle or knob to exit. I’m sure there are fire code reasons why architects specify for this, but it’s strange (remote risk of fire vs real and daily risk of disease).  I designed a graphic to highlight the issue:

In other words, when you touch the handle, you will most likely pick up viruses and bacteria left by the people who didn’t wash their hands (and those people might be really sick).  Really: research has shown that door handles have more bacteria than (gasp) toilet seats.  But even if architects are required by law to hinge doors to pull in, I think all bathrooms should be equipped with signage like the above, with perhaps additional verbiage about using a paper towel or shirt to open the door to educate people who don’t normally think about such things (you should do this if you don’t already; photo).

Compounding the above problem is the fad of equipping bathrooms with only electric hand dryers (“Saves the environment!”).  Because cheap hand dryers take about 3 minutes to dry your hands, many people opt to just exit the bathroom without washing their hands.  Or at least guys opt out…I don’t hang out in women’s restrooms that often.  This means that the handle or knob is going to get a lot more use from hands that are coated in microbial nasties. (Somebody needs to compare bacterial counts on handles in paper-free and paper-provided bathrooms…let me know what you find.) Here’s a graphic I designed for the machines:


So: my plea to people in power is for doors to be hinged so that mere pushing (e.g., with shoulder) allows exiting.  And for paper towels to be provided.  Or, if that is too costly, then for installation of signage that truly informs bathroom users about bad bathroom design and what they can do about it.  If you work in a hospital and have both MRSA and immune-suppressed patients, you definitely need signage like this. It’s cheaper than installing a door handle sanitizer, I’d wager.

If you like the idea of signage but are worried about selling it at your institution, here is a great article to send to your colleagues and staff. Signage makes a difference, but edgy signage makes more of a difference.

If the Bathroom Signage Committee at your workplace is packed with people averse to anything novel, don’t worry, you can do it yourself!  Just download the door signage and hand dryer signage files (PDFs), then print onto 4 x 6″ paper.  I recommend 3M’s removable adhesive labels (#6200), which are essentially Post-Its you feed into your inkjet or laser writer. I love these sheets for stealth stickering projects when I don’t want to permanently annoy people. Then, of course, you need to sneak the stickers into the bathrooms at your workplace.  If you place them carefully and all at once, people will assume somebody in charge mandated the change and they will have a better chance of staying up.  Good luck, and have fun.

NOTE: the signage above was installed at Swarthmore College.  They lasted about a week before they take down by order from above.  Now they are back to zero signage, and are promoting disease transmission. Hey, I tried!

Please share with your friends, folks.

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