Hand Sanitizers Don't Stop Spread of Sickness

2485644248_d29d9031bf_mHave you been slathering yourself and your kids in hand sanitizer this winter? Most of us have. Those little bottles of alcohol-based gel have become ubiquitous. We find them at the grocery store where we go to grab a cart, at the movie theater when we go to grab a seat, near the doorway of any shopping center and installed in every classroom. In all, three quarters of Americans use six or more germ-killing products every day.

There’s good news for those of us who’ve been rolling our eyes at all the literal hand-wringing we’re expected to do over germs these days. According to a new article in Slate, all those products don’t work to stop the spread of colds and flus.

Slate’s bottom line:

So you can believe all the germ hype and end up like the obsessive-compulsive billionaire Howard Hughes. Or you can follow the data and get a flu shot, wash your hands sensibly after using the bathroom and around meals, and stop wasting money on hand sanitizers.

What are they calling hype?

For one thing, not all hand sanitizers are created equal. Some contain over 60% alcohol, while others have less than 40%. Higher concentrations of alcohol make for more effective germ-killing.

Even the high quality products like Purell don’t work as well as washing your hands. Fatty acids and proteins are particularly resistant to alcohol-based gels. If your hands are soiled, or you’ve been working in a kitchen, you really want to wash them with soap and water.

Finally, as Slate points out and several studies have found, even when high quality hand sanitizers are used rigorously, they don’t cut down on the number of respiratory infections and mild illnesses suffered by children in homes or child care centers. They may kill the germs on your skin at the moment, but little kids touch so much stuff, including each other, that they do little to contain the spread of infections.

I’ve never believed the hype around these gels, and this article is like a breath of fresh air to me. That said, I do use them. I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse, and one on the changing table in my playroom. Why? Because sometimes Stuff Happens and I can’t get to a sink right away. I figure in those cases, the gel is better than nothing. I don’t use them very often though. I think I’m still working my way through the pint-size pump bottle I was given at my first baby shower six years ago.

What about you? Do you love your waterless hand sanitizer, or are you happy to see the hype around it taken down a notch?

Photo: ParanoidNotAndroid

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