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Nano-silver and bacterial resistance

Posted Sep. 13, 2011 / Posted by: Ian Illuminato

For almost 100 years, we have waged a war on bacteria.

In a new report by Friends of the Earth, we argue that this war, far from making people safer, may have a harmful impact on people’s health.  In order to stave off these microscopic ‘enemies,’ we continue to need stronger and stronger weapons. As the bacteria have found ways to resist the effects of one antimicrobial weapon, we’ve been forced to find another.

There is now a real worry that we may be running out of options to take down resistant bacteria. And it’s becoming clearer that two of the greatest health problems of our time -- antibiotic resistance and the allergy epidemic -- share a very important link: the war on bacteria.

Of late, the medical community has been turning to a new antimicrobial agent called nano-silver as a last resort. Made by producing silver, a known antibacterial, at a microscopic level, nano-silver is an extremely potent germ killer that has the potential to be seriously harmful to our health if used too commonly.

Due to the general public’s fear of bacteria, though, many companies have seen a marketing advantage in using nano-silver as an ingredient in everyday products, such as toothpastes, bath towels, cosmetics, baby bottles, ATM buttons and deodorants.

This is a trend that medical experts warn is not only unnecessary, but also dangerous. Nano-silver may be beneficial if used properly by the medical community, but, as with antibiotics, the commercial overuse of nano-silver will only promote resistance to this important antimicrobial.

Scientists have realized that in addition to breeding resistance in bacteria, our unchecked use of antimicrobials like nano-silver may come with another hidden cost: the allergy epidemic. Along with other experts surveyed for our report, Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty agrees that childhood interactions with bacteria are essential to developing strong immune systems in children. Putting nano-silvers in children’s toys, clothes, shampoos and other products could lessen the future generation’s natural ability to fight bacteria and infections.

Existing regulation not only fails to recognize that nano-silver presents new toxicity risks, it also doesn’t provide a provision for assessments of public health threats – including the ability to drive development of more powerful resistance in bacteria.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to act now to seriously restrict the use of nano-silver in consumer, industrial and environmental products. Without these limitations, the number of deaths and allergies related to antimicrobial and antibacterial resistance will only increase.

Read the report | News releaseLearn more about nano-silver

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