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Virus Mutation & the Use of Disinfectants

by Pamela Grundy
  • Overview

    Antibacterial soap may encourage virus mutation.
    Frequent hand washing is still the best way to prevent the spread of viruses that cause influenza and the common cold. Antibacterial soap is no more effective against viruses than ordinary soap, however. Overuse of antibacterial soap may even promote viral mutation, which can lead to the spread of treatment-resistant diseases.
  • Viruses and Bacteria

    Most common diseases such as influenza and colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Antibacterial soap will not kill viruses and may even encourage them to mutate into forms that are difficult to treat. Frequent hand washing with ordinary household soap and water is still the best defense against spreading viral illness.
  • Hand Sanitizer

    Hand sanitizer products are designed to kill bacteria and not all of these products are equally effective. A common problem with hand sanitizer is that since no rinsing is required after use, a live virus may remain on the skin and be passed on anyway. Ineffective hand sanitizer products can actually help spread viruses when used in place of proper hand washing.
  • Disinfectant Use

    Disinfectants are still used and recommended for use in hospitals and doctors' offices, but overuse of these antiseptic products in the home can encourage viruses to mutate. Viruses mutate easily anyway. Routinely exposing viruses to disinfectants can cause them to quickly develop a resistance to these agents.
  • Prevention/Solution

    The best disease prevention practice is still frequent simple hand washing. Wet the hands with running water, then apply powdered, liquid or household bar soap. Lather for at least 20 seconds then rinse thoroughly and dry. Do not buy household cleaning products with antibacterial agents added to them.
  • Potential

    Overuse of chemicals designed to kill bacteria causes viruses to mutate and spread. Viruses and bacteria are completely different organisms, but viruses more frequently cause communicable disease. Practice ordinary household cleanliness and wash hands frequently with ordinary soap to halt the spread of viral illness and prevent excessive mutation.

    References & Resources