A recent study that examined the health records of thousands of nurses has determined that extensive work with disinfectants causes the healthcare professionals to face significantly higher likelihood of contracting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The research, presented at the recent European Respiratory Society International Congress, considered data culled from 55,185 individuals participating in the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study II. Launched in 1989, the massive investigative effort was built around regularly administered lifestyle and health questionnaires, as well as biological sampling.
For the purposes of the narrower research into disinfectant exposure, Orianne Dumas, PhD, and colleagues focused on nurses who were still working in the healthcare field in 2009 and had no history of COPD. Those nurses were then followed for the next eight years.
“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,” Dumas says. “There was a suggestion of a link with the weekly use of disinfectants to clean instruments but this was not statistically significant.”
In the nursing cohort included in the study, 37 percent used disinfectants for surface cleaning on a weekly basis, and 19 percent used disinfectants on medical instruments with the same frequency.
Dumas points out the new research follows recent European studies that found more cases of COPD among people who are professional cleaners.
“Our findings provide further evidence of the effects of exposure to disinfectants on respiratory problems, and highlight the urgency of integrating occupational health considerations into guidelines for cleaning and disinfection in healthcare settings such as hospitals,” she says.
Dumas stresses the study’s observational nature makes it impossible to draw any decisive conclusions about causation at this point.
“These are preliminary findings and more research needs to be carried out,” says Dumas. “In particular, we need to investigate the impact on COPD of lifetime occupational exposure to chemicals and clarify the role of each specific disinfectant. We hope to receive funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue this important work.”