See the shocked look on my face? I was JUST about to use that hand sanitzer when I read that it doesn’t really prevent colds or the flu! Why didn’t I get those flu shots yesterday? The Walgreens nurses were really cute.
(Courtesy of Tasha Kates – Daily Progress)
Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer doesn’t significantly decrease how often someone is infected with a cold or flu, a University of Virginia study has found.
The results came as a surprise to research team leader Dr. Ronald Turner, whose study was sponsored by the Dial Corp. “We all thought if you used hand disinfectants, it would have an impact,” Turner said.
The results were expected to be announced Sunday during the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Boston.
Researchers armed students and other study subjects with bottles of disinfectant that have organic acids that kill viruses up to four hours after application. Volunteers were supposed to apply the sanitizer, which Turner said is theoretically better than those that are commercially available, every three hours.
Study subjects who used the sanitizers had 42 rhinovirus infections per 100 volunteers, compared with 51 infections per 100 volunteers who didn’t take special precautions. Influenza infections hit 12 of 100 subjects who used the sanitizer, compared with 15 per 100 subjects who didn’t take special precautions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hand washing as a way to keep from getting sick and spreading illnesses. Turner said the “very surprising findings” from the study mean that scientists need to continue researching cold and flu transmission, because the air, not hand contact, might be what transmits rhinovirus and influenza.
After last year’s H1N1 influenza outbreaks, the city of Charlottesville bought hand sanitizer for every city government location where money is accepted upon recommendation from the health department. Ric Barrick, city spokesman, said the city has kept the sanitizer out as a good practice.
Dr. Lilian Peake, director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, said she couldn’t comment on the study but noted that new findings need to be peer-reviewed and validated with other studies. Peake said her office bases its health recommendations on what the CDC and state health department suggest.
Turner said his findings aren’t cause for panic. He said studies have shown that hand sanitizer is effective for gastrointestinal diseases, particularly in the developing world. According to a 2002 CDC study, sanitizers did a better job reducing bacteria on hands than did antibacterial soap.