There’s no real surprise that antimicrobial products have begun to branch out to the back-to-school item category, as both antimicrobial backpacks and lunchboxes, for example, have definitely become more prevalent online. And while antimicrobial products like these aren’t exactly new, nurse practitioner Deborah Jean-Baptiste, NP, and program director within the School of Nursing at Regis College, says their surging popularity has emerged as a result of COVID-19.
“The emergence of antimicrobial lunch bags is likely a reaction to consumers, especially parents trying to protect themselves and their children,”Jean-Baptiste. “People are more cautious about the things they touch, are mindful of wiping down surfaces, and washing their hands, so a lunch box that prevents the growth of microbes sounds like a great idea to a cautious parent.”
But before you add these items to your back-to-school shopping list, it’s important to note that there are important things to keep in mind before buying them, especially since antimicrobial products do come with their share of benefits and risks.
If adding antimicrobial products to your daily routine is of interest, Dr. Rodney Rohde, PhD, MS, SV, chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) Program, and Associate Dean for Research for the College of Health Professions at Texas State University, says you’ll want to start by selecting products that are made fabrics that are infused with certain oxides and ions. These include zinc and copper oxides, as well as silver ions.
“Fabrics infused with zinc and copper oxides, or silver ions, have been proven effective in destroying viruses, particularly lipid-enveloped viruses like coronavirus,” Dr. Rohde explains. “However, these products are very much still in the early stages of development, but more and more companies are moving along with them in the United States and abroad.”
Hopkins Medical Antimicrobial Backpack
Arctic Zone Insulated Lunch Pack
Arctic Zone Insulated 2 Compartment Lunch Bag with Microban
Antimicrobial lunch bags and backpacks may promise around-the-clock protection against viruses and bacteria. However, there currently is no scientific evidence that these items protect users against COVID-19 at this time, according to board-certified internist Dr. Seema Sarin, MD.
“These products are not proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a classroom,” Dr. Sarin explains. “The virus is far more likely to be transmitted through aerosol droplets that contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a cough, sneeze, or breathing in a confined space. If children wear masks, wash their hands regularly throughout the day, maintain social distance, and stay home when they do not feel well, these measures offer the best protection against COVID-19 spread in schools.”
While some antimicrobial fabrics can take up to ten minutes to kill many microbes, other antimicrobial products merely slow or stop (inhibition versus kill/sterilize) the growth of germs without killing them, according to Dr. Rohde. This makes it important to still clean backpacks or lunch boxes regularly and thoroughly, he says.
However, if you aren’t sure how to clean your items, or if they come without cleansing instructions, Jean-Baptiste says it’s best practice to wipe down these items with a warm soapy cloth, or simply toss them in the washing machine. Doing so, she explains, can truthfully kill any harmful microbes lingering on the product surface.
“Nothing will replace the importance of hand hygiene, which includes hand washing (before and after eating), and avoiding high touch surfaces,” Dr. Rohde says. “Masks, gloves, and antimicrobial products like these can give one a false sense of security or safety. You must look at them as an additive effect, but not a substitute for proper health precautions.”
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