Are Hand Sanitizers Effective?

Schools across the country are including hand sanitizer on their school supply lists. Teachers deliver doses to children several times throughout the day, sometimes in lieu of hand washing. Many grocery stores have dispensers throughout the store for customers’ use. Women carry mini bottles in their purse, to rid their hands of germs throughout the day. The entire purpose of this new hand sanitizer craze is to ward off germs; but how well is it working?

A recent study by a team of researchers at the University of Virginia tested the effectiveness of hand sanitizer against the influenza virus and rhinovirus (common cold). What they found may shock you.

The study was conducted with a total of 200 participants; 100 of them were given a bottle of hand sanitizer and were requested to use it every 3 hours throughout their day. The other 100 merely lived their daily lives as normal. Researchers took periodic samples throughout 10 weeks, testing for the presence of either virus. If anyone showed symptoms of the flu or a cold, extra samples were taken.

The results of the study show that the hand sanitizer isn’t making much of a difference in the number of flu or cold cases: 12% of those that used the hand sanitizer came down with the flu, while 15% of the other group came down with it.

The reason hand sanitizers became so popular was a study done in 2009 that proved its effectiveness at killing the flu virus. In that study, the virus was placed on the hands of volunteers; different volunteers used different methods of cleansing their hands, then the hands were tested again for the presence of the virus.

The different hand cleansing methods were: rinsing with water, washing with non-medicated hand soap, 65% ethanol hand sanitizer, 2 applications of the 65% hand sanitizer, and an 83% ethanol hand sanitizer. Interestingly enough, the double application didn’t have more of an effect than the single application. After testing the hands for virus remains, 11/16 hands washed with soap and water still retained the virus compared to 2/15 hands treated with the hand sanitizer.

Because this previous research has proven that the hand sanitizers do in fact kill the virus itself, researchers now believe that hand transmission is not as important as they had initially thought.

Many people believe that the repeated use of multiple anti-bacterial products, hand sanitizers included, will cause viruses to evolve, becoming immune to the antibacterial agents. However, the general consensus is that this will not happen with hand sanitizers because their active ingredient is alcohol.


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