Herbs & Health

Special Report
A silver lining in the war on germs

As experts warn of superbugs – strains of bacteria resistant to strong antibiotics – becoming entrenched in many Australian hospitals, the metallic element silver is becoming the new hero in the fight against germs.

Stemming the spread of infection has always been the key to maintaining the health of individuals and communities. Even before it was understood that some diseases were transmitted by organisms such as bacteria and viruses that were too small to be seen with the naked eye, people were treating infectious diseases with natural substances we now know to have antimicrobial properties.

Perhaps the most famous example of this is garlic. Used to help fight infections for hundreds of years, it is still in popular use today. Silver is another natural substance that has impressive antimicrobial properties. Like garlic, the antimicrobial properties of silver have been recognised since ancient times. In fact, silver has been used to prevent microbial infections for more than 6000 years, and is effective against almost all the disease-causing organisms it is currently been tested against. Hospitals are now reviving the tradition of using silver in dressings to prevent burns and other wounds from becoming infected. They are also using it to coat catheters in order to reduce the risk of urinary tract infection. You may have noticed that silver is even being added to clothing fabric to help kill the bacteria that cause body odour!

A new era in silver technology
The latest generation of silver products uses patented technology to disperse nanoparticles of silver in purified water and maintain them in solution. By permanently dissolving silver into solution, its magnetic properties acquired during the manufacturing process are retained. This enhances both the bioavailability and the efficacy of silver solutions. Earlier silver products, often marketed as “colloidal silver”, have since shown some risk in terms of toxicity when overused. This is why the latest technology is so appealing – the resulting silver solution produced via the latest technology is non-toxic because it passes through the body unchanged, producing no dangerous metabolites.

Topical use of silver
As people have become more aware of the importance of hand-washing hygiene, supermarkets and pharmacies have been flooded with alcohol hand sanitisers designed for personal use. While these offer protection, as well as being handy and practical, they can also be very drying to the hands and frequent use can lead to skin irritation. An alcohol-free, silver-based gel cleanser is an effective, non-toxic alternative that is also moisturising to the skin.

Keep germs away

• To wash hands properly, spend 15 to 20 seconds rubbing them with lathered soap. Rinse well afterwards.
• Always wash your hands before eating or touching your eyes, nose or mouth.  
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose, and make sure you wash your hands afterwards.
• Use an alcohol-free, non-drying hand gel to wash your hands. Use a paper towel to wipe them dry, rather than a hand towel.
• Don’t share food, cups, towels, lipstick or anything else that might be contaminated with respiratory germs.
• Put used tissues in the bin as soon as possible. Never leave them in pockets or on bench tops.
• If you have a cough or fever, stay away from school or the office to prevent the spread of germs. Aim to get plenty of rest at home.
• Visit your doctor if your cough or fever gets worse.


Ever tossed a silver coin into a fountain? Far from being an excuse to make a wish, this ancient custom has its origins in the need to purify drinking water.



Born with a silver spoon in your mouth? This popular phrase refers to the medieval practice of using silver cutlery and drinking vessels to help protect against the plague - an opportunity that was only available to those who were wealthy.