Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – October 28th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

October 28, 2005

New WHO Program Aims at Hand Washing to Reduce Healthcare Infections

For the 2005-2006 edition of the Global Patient Safety Challenge, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched Clean Care is Safer Care, an awareness raising campaign focused on hand hygiene to reduce healthcare-associated infections. The program advocates proper hand washing practices in healthcare settings as a primary measure for reducing infections, as well as the spread of anti-microbial resistance.

According to WHO, at any given moment over 1.4 million people worldwide have a hospital-acquired infection.

Between 5% and 10% of patients admitted to hospitals in developed countries acquire one or more health care-associated infection – also referred to as nosocomial infection, resulting in prolonged hospital stays, significant financial burden, long-term disability and in some cases death. In developing nations, the risk of nosocomial infection can be as much as 20 times higher and is one of the leading causes of premature mortality in some countries. According to WHO’s World Alliance for Patient Safety, hospital staff and physicians clean their hands less than half of the number of times they should, particularly in critical care situations where adherence to good practices may be as low as 10%.

The objectives of The Global Patient Safety Challenge is to improve four key areas of infection concern:

* Blood products and their use;
* Injection practices and immunization;
* Safe water, basic sanitation and waste management;
* Clinical procedures, particularly in first-level emergency care.

In the U.S., one out of every 136 hospital patients becomes ill as a result of a hospital-acquired infection, equivalent to 2 million cases and about 80 000 deaths each year and costing between $4.5 billion and $5.7 billion annually.

To read more about the WHO 2005-2006 Global Patient Safety Challenge, please go to: 2005-2006 Global Patient Safety Challenge

Panel Concludes Antibacterial Soaps Are a Wash

A panel of health advisors reported to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) last week that antibacterial soaps and washes are no more effective than basic soap and water at fighting illness in the household. The Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, composed of independent health and medical industry experts, did not recommend specific regulatory action against the manufacturers of antibacterial products, but did call on the FDA to study the products’ risks versus their benefits.

The panelists made a distinction in their findings between alcohol-based hand cleansers and antibacterial soaps and washes, offering that alcohol-based products are useful in situations in which soap and water are not available.

The popularity of soaps and other products providing anti-bacterial properties have skyrocketed in recent years as a defense against household illnesses, leading some to question the long-term health effects of casual consumer use of antibacterials. While the FDA has not found any medical studies linking specific antibacterial products to reduced infection rates, some suggest that a number of those products using synthetic chemicals rather than alcohol or bleach, pose the risk of creating germs that are resistant to antibacterials and antibiotics.

Manufacturers of the antibacterial products contend their products are safe and more effective than conventional soaps, claiming that they kill germs instead of just washing them off. A recent study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in which the development of bacteria in 224 households was monitored for a year, reported no significant increase in resistant bacteria in houses using anti-bacterial instead of regular soap. However, the results of the study also showed that use of anti-bacterial soap did not lead to healthier home environments than regular soap.

The FDA has the authority to order warning labels on products or place restrictions on how they are marketed to the public, but did not make the recommendation to do so in the case of antibacterials based on the panel’s findings.

For a full report on the October 20th FDA Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committees meeting, please go to: Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee Meeting – October 20, 2005

For a briefing on the CDC’s Antibacterial Cleaning Products and Drug Resistance study, please go to:

Agreement Reached on Airline Water Contamination

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached settlements with 11 major domestic airlines and 13 smaller airlines to improve the safety of the drinking water used by their passengers and crew. The action came after an EPA investigation of 327 U.S. and foreign flag airlines at 19 airports in 2004 found total coliform contamination in the drinking water in 15 percent of aircraft.

As detailed in previous issues of “In the News,” the EPA conducted two rounds of random tests of the water supplies on more than 300 domestic and international aircraft arriving at selected U.S. airports. The results of the testing showed total coliform in 13 and 17 percent of test samples, respectively. Total coliform is an indicator that other pathogens could be in the water and could potentially affect people’s health.

The settlements announced on October 19 require each airline to regularly monitor aircraft water systems, notify EPA and the public when tests reveal contamination, and regularly disinfect aircraft water systems and water transfer equipment. The agreements also require each airline to study possible sources of contamination from outside of the aircraft.

In addition, EPA is in the process of developing regulations for water that is served onboard aircraft. EPA conducted a public meeting in June 2005 as part the development process for the airline drinking water rule that will be announced in the future.

For more information from EPA on airline water supplies, please go to:
Safe Water a Top Priority in Wake of Kashmir Quake

Nearly three weeks after the earthquake that rocked the Kashmir region along the Pakistan-India border killing an estimated 79,000 people, poor sanitation conditions and a lack of clean water have created the potential for large-scale disease outbreaks, according to public health experts. In an October 23rd statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the lack of access to safe drinking water had become a major health concern for the region. According to WHO, immediate provision of safe drinking water is necessary to prevent epidemics of diarrhea, typhoid and other waterborne diseases.

Through its ReliefWeb information resource, WHO has outlined “urgent needs” for the affected region, which include supplies of chlorine in any available form for water disinfection; detergents, disinfectants and cleaning materials; hygiene promotion material; and two onsite purification water plants in the heavily damaged city of Muzaffarabad. Additionally, WHO has put out an international call for hundreds of thousands of liters of water, needed both for reducing the risk of disease outbreak and for hygiene purposes in health facilities where the seriously injured, including those with open fractures and gangrene, are at risk from fatal infections and waterborne diseases.

To assist efforts to combat waterborne disease outbreaks, USAID and Procter & Gamble have announced a $600,000 public-private alliance to provide safe drinking water for those affected by the earthquake. Through the partnership, USAID and Proctor & Gamble are supplying the point-of-use, chlorine-based water purification product PUR in an effort to reduce cases of diarrheal illnesses.

For updated health and safety information on the earthquake-affected Kashmir region, go to: ReliefWeb – Kashmir Earthquake Update

In The News-is a bi-weekly, online service from the Water Quality & Health Council. The publication is updated every other Friday and can be viewed by logging onto

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