If you have visited a drug store lately, you possibly noticed the empty shelves where hand sanitizers normally sit. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it is not surprising that many people are taking extra steps to stay safe, involving stocking up on sanitizing sprays, soaps, and gels. But are hand sanitizers the good defense against viruses and bacteria like influenza and coronavirus? Companies that market these products (which are sometimes labeled antibacterial or antimicrobial) say yes. But few customer advocates say no, arguing that they are not effective and have the potential to engender bacterial strains that resist antibiotics. As it turns out, a good answer is to take a common-sense approach.
How useful are hand sanitizers?
They are useful in the hospital, to aid prevent the transfer of bacteria and viruses from one patient to another by hospital personnel. Beyond a hospital setting, it is very difficult to show that hand sanitizing products are useful. Outside of the hospital, most people catch respiratory viruses from direct contact with people who already have them, and hand sanitizers will not do anything in those circumstances. And they have not been shown to have more disinfecting power than just washing your hands with water and soap.
The portable hand sanitizers do have a role during peak respiratory virus season [roughly November to April] because they create it much easy to clean your hands. It is much more difficult when you sneeze to wash your hands than it’s to use a hand sanitizer, particularly when you’re outdoors or in a car. The hand sanitizers are much more convenient, so they create it more likely that people will clean their hands, and that is better than not cleaning at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, for hand sanitizer to be effective, it must be used correctly. That means using the proper amount (read the label to see how much you should use), and rubbing it all over the surfaces of both hands until your hands are dry. Don’t wipe your hands or wash them after applying.
Are all hand sanitizers created equal?
It is important to ensure any hand sanitizer you do use contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Studies discovered that sanitizers with low concentrations or non-alcohol-based sanitizers aren’t as efficient at killing germs as those with 60 to 95 percent alcohol. In particular, non-alcohol-based sanitizers cannot work equally well on different kinds of germs and can cause some germs to develop resistance to the sanitizer.
Are hand sanitizers bad for you?
There’s no evidence that alcohol-based hand sanitizers and other antimicrobial products are harmful. They can theoretically lead to antibacterial resistance. That is the reason most frequently used to argue against using hand sanitizers. But that has not been proven. In the hospital, there has not been any proof of resistance to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. However, while there are not many studies showings that hand sanitizers definitely pose a threat, there also is not any proof that they do a better job of protecting you from harmful bacteria than soap. So while hand sanitizers have their place in hospitals or when you cannot get to a sink washing with soap and warm water is almost always a better option.
When to avoid hand sanitizers
You should always clean with water and soap if your hands are visibly dirty, or if you have touched chemicals. When hands are heavily greasy or soiled like after playing outdoor working or sports at a construction site the CDC cautions that hand sanitizers cannot work well at all.
Benefits of water and soap
Whenever you find the chance, wash the hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with non-bacterial soap along with warm water. The CDC says water and soap are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs. They preserve the flora, or good bacteria, on the hands. Your full body is covered with bacteria, and if you remove good bacteria, they will be replaced by other harmful bacteria. Natural bacteria are present for a reason.
The best defense: cleanliness
What does your room look like? What does the bathroom look like? How about your phone? There is the best chance all of these things require to be cleaned. It is not necessary to use antimicrobial products: The important thing is to keep everything clean on a regular basis. On the other hand, few people are concerned about hygiene to an extreme extent. We try to assure them that if they do the typical things such as practicing good hygiene rather than taking extraordinary measures, they will be fine.
The effectiveness of hand sanitizer
The main ingredient in most hand sanitizers is ethanol (the principle ingredient in alcoholic drinks) or isopropanol (rubbing alcohol). Alcohols have a long history as an effective disinfectant against some bacteria and viruses, as long as the solution has enough alcohol in it. Hand sanitizer is a practical backup if you do not have access to soap and running water. But in general, sanitizers are not as effective as hand washing. Plus, hand sanitizers can expire and need proper diligence and technique to work properly. People usually do not use enough volume of hand sanitizer or spread it around their hands as far as they should, says Berezow. To use hand sanitizer correctly, apply the specified amount as directed by the product’s label to the palm of one hand, and rub the sanitizer thoroughly over both hands until they feel dry. The CDC advises that this process, much such as hand washing, should take 20 seconds.
Hand sanitizer is effective at killing some microbes, but not all. Here’re some germs that it cannot protect you against:
Cryptosporidium. A parasitic infection that causes gastrointestinal and breathing issues.
Norovirus. A viral infection that can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Clostridium difficile. A bacterial infection that can cause inflammation and intestinal upset.
What to look for in hand sanitizer?
Alcohol-based sanitizers should contain at least 60 percent alcohol. But any concentration between 60-95 percent will do that job. A concentration of less than 60 percent of alcohol can decrease the growth of germs but it will not eradicate them completely. Therefore, beware of hand sanitizers with too little alcohol, or hand sanitizers that use alcohol substitutes, which aren’t as effective or recommended by the CDC.