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Hand Sanitizer Use Does Not Mean Hands Are Free Of Infectious Germs: Study

A new study suggests alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be enough to kill viral germs, highlighting the importance of individuals also thoroughly washing their hands with warm, soapy water.

In findings published this month by American Society for Microbiology in the journal mSphere, researchers compare the effectiveness of antiseptic hand rubbing (AHR) using ethanol-based disinfectants to antiseptic hand washing (AHW) to kill ordinary and seasonal germs.

Japanese researchers performed a study in which wet and dry mucus harvested from individuals with influenza A (the flu) was applied to the fingertips of 10 volunteers. The study volunteers were then given an ethanol-base hand sanitizer to apply so the researchers could determine the effectiveness of AHR.

According to the results, hand sanitizer took four minutes or more to deactivate wet mucus containing the flu virus. It took  about 30 second to deactivate dry mucus. However, antiseptic hand washing (AHW) rapidly inactivated the influenza A virus faster than any other method, regardless of whether the mucus was wet or dry on the participants hands.

Researchers say the findings highlight the risk of individuals using only hand sanitizer to kill germs and viruses.

The findings serve as a warning to individuals working in the healthcare and medical fields, according to the researchers. The study suggest that when only hand sanitizers are used by medical staff, not enough time may lapse to kill the germs between going from one patient to the next. This could potentially allow an isolated case of influenza A to spread throughout an entire hospital or medical center, sickening many more.

Researchers say hand sanitizers could be offering a false sense of security which could lead to the spread of viral infections. The authors of this study recommended that hospitals and care facilities adopt antiseptic hand washing policies to avoid the risk of spreading infections in the healthcare setting.

Hand Sanitizer Concerns

Hand sanitizers are intended to be used when soap and water are not available. However, they have become increasingly popular in home and office settings. Too often, the topical antiseptics are left on the hands and not rinsed off with water.

Millions of Americans use hand sanitizers daily, sometimes multiple times a day, to reduce bacteria. However, growing concerns have also emerged amid thousands of reports involving hand sanitizer poisonings, often involving young children.

Last year, poison control centers nationwide received more than 12,000 hand sanitizer poisoning reports involving children twelve years of age and under. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that roughly 9,300 reports of hand sanitizer poisonings were recorded in the first half of 2017. More than 70,000 reports of hand sanitizer poisoning among children were recorded by the agency from 2011 to 2014, involving both alcohol based and non-alcohol based hand sanitizers.

After years of mounting injury reports surrounding hand sanitizers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a final rule on hand sanitizers, which banned more than two dozen active ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) antiseptic products, which studies have shown may cause harm to consumers.

However, the agency did not ban the use of alcohol in the products, which have been linked to many of the child poisonings. Instead, the FDA deferred its decision on alcohol in hand sanitizer, saying further research is needed.

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