See this related answer.
To answer your specific questions:
Has something changed?
Well, we have access to these products now, whereas we didn't before.
Does this sanitizing really make people healthier?
That is a subject of debate. While it can prevent rapid spread of some things, keep in mind that anti-bacterial soaps should only have specific uses.
The CDC has concerns about the prevalent use of these products.
Scientists are concerned that the antibacterial agents will select bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics. Moreover, if they alter a person's microflora, they may negatively affect the normal maturation of the T helper cell response of the immune system to commensal flora antigens; this change could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children. As with antibiotics, prudent use of these products is urged. Their designated purpose is to protect vulnerable patients.
Also, there is some concern as outlined by the hygiene hypothesis (WP). However, that is mostly associated with childhood immunities and allergies as opposed to the effects on adults.
“The natural immune system does not have as much to do as it did 50 years ago because we’ve increased our efforts to protect our children from dirt and germs,” says McMorris.
“Allergies are on the rise because our society has changed the way we live. As a result, people with allergies are having children with others who have allergies, which in turn creates a natural increase in the prevalence of allergies in our society.
The bottom line on this hypothesis is that more research is required.
He (Richard G. Barbers, M.D., USC professor of medicine at the Keck School) also gives credence to the hygiene hypothesis in that "we may be over-protecting kids, and their immune systems, consequently, do not become well-developed."
Barbers notes that only time and a lot more research will tell whether the hygiene hypothesis is valid, and whether, once again, parents should let their kids play in the dirt.
It is generally understood that interaction with beneficial germs is good for you. However, normal cleaning will not destroy these germs since they reside within you (unless his germaphobia induces him to take antibiotics). The human immune response doesn't particularly work that way.
The investigators show that "good" bacteria in the gut keep the immune system primed to more effectively fight infection from invading pathogenic bacteria. Altering the intricate dynamic between resident and foreign bacteria - via antibiotics, for example -- compromises an animal's immune response, specifically, the function of white blood cells called neutrophils.
Using too many anti-bacterial soaps has raised quite a few concerns even still.
Soaps and lotions that include antibacterial agents have no benefit over ordinary soap and water, but more research is needed to allay or substantiate concern that these substances may be leading to increased rates of antibiotic resistance. This is the conclusion of the Food and Drug Administration's Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, which met last month to consider the use of these products outside of the health care setting.
"In the absence of proven benefit, there's no real reason to encourage the use of these products," said Alastair J.J. Wood, MD, committee chair and associate dean at Tennessee's Vanderbilt Medical School.
That is not to say that their use should be discontinued entirely. Two MDs weigh in and conclude:
Opt for regular soap and water, unless you’re at a hospital or doctor’s office, where it’s best to use antibacterial soap. But if you’re out and about and antibacterial soap is the only kind around, it’s fine to wash with it—and it’s worth keeping in the kitchen to use after handling raw meat.
Hope that helps.