Regular use of bleach disinfectant linked to fatal lung conditions

Cleaning the house once a week with bleach or other disinfectants could increase the risk of developing fatal lung diseases, according to a study.

The third highest death rate in Europe is in England.

The debilitating and often agonising illness, which can include bronchitis and emphysema, was linked to long-term use of quaternary ammonium compounds, known as “quats”, which are found in everyday floor and surface disinfectants.

The findings could also have implications for cleaners and other workers who regularly have to breathe the fumes from cleaning chemicals.

The research involved data from more than 55,000 nurses in the U.S., and scientists looked at exposure to specific disinfectants, including bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), which are often used to disinfect surfaces such as floors and furniture.

While the everyday use of bleach now has no specific health guidelines, the study’s researchers are hoping that this will change. Some of these disinfectants are frequently used in ordinary households, and the potential impact of domestic use is unknown’.

While cleaning products have previously been linked with asthma, this is believed to be the first time they have been connected to COPD – an umbrella term for conditions characterised by increasing breathlessness.

Data was analysed from a mass study on female nurses that Harvard started in 1989.

Researchers focused on nurses who were still working in healthcare in 2009, and had no history of COPD, following them until May this year.

Over this period, 663 nurses were diagnosed with the COPD.

All of these were associated with an increased risk of COPD of between 24% to 32% in the study.

Dr. Orianne Dumas, a researcher at Inserm said that further investigation of COPD is necessary to clarify the role of each disinfectant. There was a suggestion of a link with the weekly use of disinfectants to clean instruments but this was not statistically significant.

The nurses’ exposure to disinfectants were evaluated via a questionnaire, according to The Guardian.

‘In our study population, 37 per cent of nurses used disinfectants to clean surfaces on a weekly basis and 19 per cent used disinfectants to clean medical instruments on a weekly basis’.

She ensured that she will highlight the need for guidelines for cleaning and disinfection in healthcare establishments such as hospitals to be improvised to take into account the occupational health risks.

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