Bleach is a great way to kill germs while cleaning your house. A new study, however, suggests that passive exposure to bleach at home is found to be connected with the flu, tonsillitis and other infections in kids.
The study led by the University of Leuven in Belgium and published online in the medical journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine found the chance of an episode of flu was 20% higher and recurrent tonsillitis 35% greater among children whose parents used bleach to clean their home.
For the study, researchers looked at the possible impact of exposure to bleach in the home of more than 9000 children between the ages of 6 and 12 attending 19 schools in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 17 schools in Eastern and Central Finland and 18 schools in Barcelona, Spain.
The parents were asked to complete a questionnaire on the number and frequency of flu, tonsillitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, otitis and pneumonia infections their children had in the preceding 12 months. As they were also asked if they used bleach to clean their homes at least once a week.
The results showed that bleach was commonly used in Spain as 72% of parents used it at home, and all schools there used it for cleaning. However, its use was extremely rare in Finland, with only 7% of parents using it. Surprisingly, after taking account of influential factors, such as passive smoking at home, parental education, the presence of household mould, and use of bleach to clean school premises, researchers found that kids whose parents used bleach to clean the house were more likely to have infections, especially the flu and tonsillitis.
The risk of one episode of flu in the previous year was 20% higher, and recurrent tonsillitis 35% higher, among children whose parents used bleach to clean their home. Similarly, the risk of any recurrent infection was 18% higher among children whose parents regularly used cleaning bleach.
“The high frequency of use of disinfecting cleaning products, caused by the erroneous belief, reinforced by advertising, that our homes should be free of microbes, makes the modest effects reported in our study of public health concern,” the researchers wrote in the study.
Even though this is an an observational study and therefore no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, researchers believe that the myth that all bacteria is bad might be doing families more harm than good.
Household cleaning products are known to be nasal and lung irritants. The irritant properties of volatile or airborne compounds generated during the cleaning process may damage the lining of nose and lung cells making it easier for infections to take hold, scientists say.
And continue, that the high frequency of use of disinfecting irritant cleaning products may be of public health concern, also when exposure occurs during childhood, (Occupational & Environmental Medicine.)
The American Cleaning Institute, which represents companies that manufacture cleaners, defended the use of bleach in a statement noting that the study was observational and no direct link was proven. Still, the authors of the study say their findings are in line with the increased risk of recurrent bronchitis in school-age children reported in a Belgian cross-sectional study and even though the effects of bleach use are modest, widespread use of bleach can add up to public health concern.
Personally, I believe that it is better to be safe than sorry and the slightest possibility of increased infections due to bleach use is enough reason for me to remove this chemical from my household.