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Use of disinfectants raises risk of COPD among nurses: study

washing medical instruments
Photo: Marc Dufresne/iStockphoto

Villejuif, France – Frequent use of workplace disinfectants may increase health care workers’ risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, suggest researchers from France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

Analyzing data from 55,185 registered nurses who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study II, researchers in 2009 began studying nurses without COPD and followed them until this past May. Questionnaire responses from 663 participants who were diagnosed with COPD during the study period revealed their exposure, sorted by task, to disinfectants.

“We found that nurses who use disinfectants to clean surfaces on a regular basis – at least once a week – had a 22 percent increased risk of developing COPD,” Dr. Orianne Dumas, of INSERM, said in a press release. “There was a suggestion of a link with the weekly use of disinfectants to clean instruments, but this was not statistically significant.”

Specific disinfectants analyzed included glutaraldehyde (used for medical instruments), bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and quaternary ammonium compounds (or “quats,” mainly used for disinfection of surfaces such as floors and furniture). All of the disinfectants were associated with an increased risk of COPD of between 24 percent and 32 percent.

Previous studies have linked disinfectant exposure to breathing problems such as asthma, but COPD mostly has been overlooked, Dumas said in the release.

The study was presented Sept. 11 at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

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