New York: An antimicrobial agent found in many consumer products ranging from hand soaps to toys and even toothpaste can rapidly disrupt bacterial communities in the gut, new research shows. Although the health implications are not certain, dysfunction of the gut microbiome has been associated with several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and malnutrition. The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was based on findings made with zebrafish, which researchers believe are an important animal model to help determine possible human biological and health impacts of this antimicrobial compound. Triclosan was first used as a hospital scrub in the 1970s and now is one of the most common antimicrobial agents in the world, found in shampoos, deodorants, toothpastes, mouth washes, kitchen utensils, cutting boards, toys, bedding, socks and trash bags. It continues to be used in medical settings, and can be easily absorbed through the skin. In the new study, researchers found that triclosan exposure caused rapid changes in both the diversity and composition of the microbiome in the laboratory animals. "Clearly there may be situations where antibacterial agents are needed," said Christopher Gaulke, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral microbiology researcher at Oregon State University in the US. "However, scientists now have evidence that intestinal bacteria may have metabolic, cardiovascular, autoimmune and neurological impacts, and concerns about overuse of these agents are valid," Gaulke noted.