Regular use of disinfectants may increase the risk of COPD

Continues exposure to certain disinfectants commonly used to clean health facilities can increase the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by up to 32%.

Some chemicals in disinfectants that are commonly used in cleaning and disinfecting health facilities , such as quaternary ammonium compounds (QAC), may increase the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) , according to the results of a research conducted by the University of Harvard and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research of France (INSERM) .

The authors collected data from a study of more than 55,000 nurses – the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) – and selected a group of workers who did not have a history of COPD at the time of the study , and continued for eight years (between 2009 and 2017), assessing exposure to disinfectant chemicals in their work environment.

INSERM researcher Orianne Dumas explained that 37% of nurses used disinfectants to sanitize surfaces every week, and that 19% used them to disinfect medical instruments at the same frequency.

Throughout the follow-up 663 nurses were diagnosed of COPD , and after adjusting for other potential risk factors, such as age, body mass index, smoking, or ethnic characteristics, the investigators found that study participants who used disinfectants at least once a week had a 22% higher risk of developing COPD ; a risk that increased to 32% depending on the type of chemical and the frequency of exposure.

WHAT ARE QUATERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS?

Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are biocidal chemicals that are included in some cleaning products because of their ability as antimicrobial agents – they are bactericidal, fungicidal and virucidal – and are therefore widely used both in the food industry and in the centers to sanitize surfaces, utensils and installations.

Other studies have already linked the use of disinfectants to the appearance of respiratory problems such as asthma , but this new work is the first to point out a link between the exposure of health professionals to quaternary ammonium compounds and an increased likelihood of COPD, although this is an observational study, and it is necessary to continue investigating to confirm its results.

In addition, as Dumas has warned, these disinfectants are also frequently used in households, and it is unknown at present what the impact of their domestic use on the health of the population might be.