Vidyya Medical News Service
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Volume 6 Issue 311 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 6-Nov-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 7-Nov-2004
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Preventing infections in the home

Doing laundry using hot water and bleach may prevent infections in the home, while drinking only bottled water may promote infections, according to research funded by NIH's National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) that looked at ways to predict infectious disease symptoms in inner city households.

Dr. Elaine Larson, associate dean for research at the School of Nursing at Columbia University, who led the study, said, "What is important is to identify which choices and habits actually help prevent disease, and which may either make no difference or actually promote disease."

The investigators closely monitored 238 households with almost 1,200 members in an inner city community in northern Manhattan composed mostly of Hispanics living primarily in large apartment buildings. The research team consisted of three bilingual physicians and a trained community worker. Each household received a weekly phone call, a monthly visit, and extensive home interviews every quarter during the 48-week study. A Home Hygiene Assessment Form designed by the team included questions about food preparation, sharing towels and toothbrushes and beliefs about germs. Also covered were questions about the incidence and type of infections experienced by household members. Responses ranged from fever and skin boils to diarrhea, vomiting and sore throats.

Using hot water for white laundry was found to reduce disease risk by about 30 percent. Bleach was also protective; those who reported using bleach at the beginning of the study had about one-fourth the infection rate of those who did not. Previous studies have shown that washing machines can be contaminated after use and transfer microbes to subsequent loads of laundry. Most washing machines are set at temperatures between 78-140 degrees Fahrenheit. This study found that a setting between 178-194 degrees Fahrenheit helps reduce the risk of infections (temperatures that high may not be appropriate for some clothing, however).

The researchers also found that drinking only bottled water was associated with a two-fold risk of infection. They noted that further studies need to look at whether the water was contaminated or whether the cause was more than one person drinking from the same bottle. The results of a body of studies of bottled water by other investigators — there are more than 600 brands — have been contradictory.

Interestingly, the research team found no difference in disease risk between products with and without antimicrobial ingredients, so antimicrobial products may have no protective effect.

Dr. Patricia A. Grady, director of NINR, commented, "We need to know more about our routine household hygiene and cleaning assumptions in order to be accurate in preventing infections. This is a key area for further research."

— Written by Lanny Newman

Source: Nursing Research 53, 3


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