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Hand Sanitizer Effectiveness

Priya Johnson
Hand sanitizers work by killing germs like bacteria and viruses from the hands, rendering them germ-free. The effectiveness of hand sanitizers in curbing infectious diseases has spearheaded their sales across the globe.
Around 99% of germs spread via droplets, can be curbed by proper hand washing. People come in contact with germs mostly in public restrooms, etc. where people before them have not maintained proper hygiene. According to the Centers for Disease Control, hand washing is considered to be the single most important means of preventing the spread of infections.
Since most of the diseases are caused by germs carried on the hands, using proper hand washing techniques to wash hands can minimize the amount of disease transmission. Washing hands with soap and water gets rid of all unwanted guests from entering our body systems. Moreover, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers for hygiene are also gaining popularity today.

What are Hand Sanitizers?

Hand sanitizers work by killing microbial cells and not human cells. They disrupt the outer coat of the virus and the cell membrane of a bacterium, which is why hand sanitizers are used to curb the spread of infectious diseases.
A hand sanitizer comprises 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Around 70% concentration of alcohol is far more effective than 100%, as the little amount of water content improves penetration capability of the alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a concentration of 60% - 95% isopropanol or ethanol for alcohol based sanitizers.

Effectiveness of Hand Sanitizers

The 'Swine flu surge of 2009', has conduced to hand sanitizers squirts on hands across the globe. People have been seen using these sanitizers at public places, before eating, after using restrooms, at work places, etc. Well, how much do we actually know about hand sanitizer effectiveness? Do they work effectively?
When Professor James Scott, an associate professor in the Division of Occupational & Environmental Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health was asked about the effectiveness of hand sanitizer he said, after all the critical research he conducted he found that it works exceedingly well.
According to Professor Scott's research, hand sanitizers work by destroying microbial cells.
Moreover, community-based epidemiologic studies have revealed that hand sanitizers have been effective in decreasing gastrointestinal illnesses in households thereby reducing illnesses in university dormitories and absentee rates in elementary schools. According to an article published in Newsweek hand sanitizers do not work as effectively as soap and water.
They go on to say that the effectiveness of alcohol based gels depend on the type and amount of germs they are fighting. In a nut shell, this means the longer it has been since you have used soap and water to wash your hands, the less effective a hand sanitizer will be.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that they are suitable alternatives to hand washing in health care settings, where medical staffs wash their hands scores of times a day. For them such alcohol based hand sanitizers provide a relatively clean surface to work on, thereby minimizing germ transmission.
Despite the various studies pointing at the effectiveness of hand sanitizers, it is recommended that you use soap and water to wash your hands, while limit the use of hand sanitizers to times when you do not have access to soap and water.
Even if sanitizers clean the hands of germs, they do not clean the hands, this means they cannot get rid of grime, dust, feces, blood or other body fluids from your hands. So do not substitute a sanitizer for soap and water, just use it as an alternative!