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Examining the effectiveness of hand sanitizers

A post today on CommonHealth takes a closer look at the effectiveness of hand sanitizers when it comes to killing germs. In a thorough discussion of the science behind sanitizers, contributor Aayesha Siddiqui notes:

Alcohol-based sanitizers, at the concentrations commercially available, work best against bacteria (like E. coli or salmonella), fungi, and certain types of viruses (enveloped viruses--viruses that have a coat around them, like the influenza virus and HIV). Check, check, and check.

But what about non-enveloped viruses (like norovirus or rotavirus)? Alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been shown to have some effect--with ethanol doing better than isopropanol--but their killing prowess here isn't as strong as against the other germs. Sanitizers also won't do much good against protozoa (like what causes malaria) or bacterial spores (like those of C. difficile). (If you want to geek out on the scientific literature, take a look at the World Health Organization Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care, starting on page 32.)

Take home lesson: It doesn't hurt to use hand sanitizers, just know that you're not fully protected.

Overall, Siddiqui concludes that hand sanitizers are convenient and effective in many circumstances but aren't a cure-all. So perhaps consider using them to supplement regular hand-washing practices rather than as a substitute.

Previously: Survey outlines barriers to handwashing in schools, Examining hand hygiene in the emergency department, Good advice from Washyourhandsington, Hey, health workers: Washing your hands is good for your patients, Clean hands save lives and Everything you ever wanted to know about hand hygiene
Photo by yurakrasil

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