New Kleenex claims to blow away viruses
■ Old-fashioned hand-washing still is an effective way to avoid spreading colds and flu.
Washington -- A tissue designed to kill at least some cold and flu viruses is on its way to stores. Kimberly-Clark is poised to begin marketing its Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue by early October, which also marks the start of cold and flu season.
"Through research, we learned that it's increasingly important to consumers to protect their families against common cold and flu viruses," said Robert P. van der Merwe, group president for Kimberly-Clark's North Atlantic Family Care division.
While the tissues won't help individuals who already have a cold, the plan is that they will help block transmission of viruses to others. Since there are about 1 billion colds a year in the United States, many of which result in visits to physicians' offices, any means to halt the viruses' relentless march will likely resonate with consumers.
But it is questionable just how effective the new tissues will be.
While the tissues are treated with an antiviral formula consisting of citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate, which are also used in foods and toothpaste, a lot depends on the proper use and disposal of the tissue, according to researchers.
The company claims that 99.9% of cold and flu viruses -- specifically rhinoviruses type 1A and 2, influenza A and influenza B and respiratory syncytial virus -- that are trapped in the treated tissue will be killed within 15 minutes.
"The concept is good; the tissue could neutralize the virus," said Philip M. Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at New York University Medical School. Dr. Tierno is also the author of The Secret Life of Germs.
"But let's say you have a large amount of mucus coming out of your nose, it is virtually impossible for the amount of citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate in a tissue to diffuse through that and effectively kill all the virus in a particular sample."
In addition, the tissue must be wadded up rather carefully with the mucus inside before it is tossed in the trash can. Stuffing it back into a pocket is liable to spread the virus.
Also, for successful germ control, no mucus can touch the cold sufferer's hands. If it does, the virus can be easily transferred to a new victim either directly or indirectly. "So the concept is good, but the execution may allow for a limited effectiveness," said Dr. Tierno.
Kimberly-Clark test marketed a similar product, Avert, in the 1980s, said Owen Hendley, MD, a University of Virginia professor in pediatric infectious diseases, who worked on it. That version contained a slightly different virus-fighting formula.
Although it was test-marketed, it was never actually introduced widely.
But times have changed. "In fact, 90% of consumers we spoke with were interested in purchasing Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues and said they'd recommend the product to others," said van der Merwe.
Today's consumers have been primed for the arrival of an antiviral tissue by its predecessors, the popular antibacterial soaps and lotions.
The public is also more infection-savvy today than it was 20 years ago, said Dr. Tierno. "With news of West Nile virus and SARS hitting the papers, people are more aware and want to do something about it," he said.
It's debatable that the use of antimicrobial and antiviral products is the right thing to do. Concerns have been raised that the widespread use of antimicrobials may play a role in promoting antibiotic resistance, a growing public health threat. The AMA, for instance, has urged the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the use of antimicrobials in consumer products.
"Antibacterial hand soaps are damned foolishness, frankly," said Dr. Hendley. "You can get rid of rhinovirus within two seconds of rinsing your hands with water. It's not hard to get rid of."
However, Dr. Tierno doesn't share concerns about the products. "There hasn't been one shred of evidence in the 30-plus years that these products have existed that they have fostered antibiotic resistance."