Hand Sanitizers Vs. Soap & Water

A mother and her daughter washing their hands in a sinkIs hand sanitizer as effective as soap? Hand washing is usually the go-to recommendation for preventing cold and flu outbreaks, but in recent years, many have taken to using hand sanitizers. The question is: How best to avoid infection? Is the general consensus for hand sanitizers really a good idea?

Well, a recent study found that staff in long-term care facilities who relied too much on hand sanitizers over hand washing actually reported more outbreaks of norovirus-related illness.

What is the active ingredient in hand sanitizers?

Hand sanitizers have a form of alcohol, such as ethyl alcohol, as an active ingredient. It works as an antiseptic. Other ingredients may include water, fragrance, and glycerin.

Hand Sanitizers vs. Soap and Water

Interestingly enough, the Food and Drug Administration, in regards to regulations concerning proper procedures for food services, recommends that hand sanitizers not be used in place of soap and water but only as an adjunct.

To properly sanitize the hands, soap and water should be used. A hand sanitizer cannot and should not take the place of proper cleansing procedures with soap and water. Both are important, but soap and water are number one. Hand sanitizers are an effective supplement.

The CDC agrees. It says that for norovirus, washing hands is your best prevention, especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before eating and doing food prep. Sanitizers may help, but “they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.”

They also can be used if soap and water aren’t available, the CDC says.

What about antibacterial soaps?

Research on the use of antibacterial soaps has shown that plain soaps are just as effective as antibacterial soaps in reducing bacteria related illnesses. In fact, using consumer antibacterial soap products may increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics in some bacteria. These conclusions only apply to consumer antibacterial soaps and not to those used in hospitals or other clinical areas.

Other studies suggest that ultra-clean environments and the persistent use of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers may inhibit proper immune system development in children. This is because inflammatory systems require greater exposure to common germs for proper development.

What is the best way to wash hands?

Proper hand washing involves ”20 to 30 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with soap and warm water.” It’s the physical rubbing that does a lot of the work. But the soap is important.

What is the best way to use hand sanitizers?

To use hand sanitizers properly, use one or two squirts or pumps. Rub hands together briskly, front and back, between fingers, around and under the nails, until hands are dry.

If you have a sick child, what can help contain those germs?

Use normal household cleaning agents such as bleach to wipe down surfaces such as diaper-changing tables. Pay careful attention to infection control. Wash [hands] with soap and water before preparing food. If you are sick, don’t prepare food.

Those with more than one child should be careful to wash their hands between tending to the sick child, such as diaper changing, and tending to the well child

Germ Hot Spots: The Plane Edition

A couple on a planeWondering how to avoid germs, and getting sick, while traveling on a plane? Unfortunately, the risk of contracting a contagious illness is heightened when you are in an enclosed space.

Studies show that germs can travel easily on an airplane, where people are packed together tightly.

For example, a woman on a 1994 flight from Chicago to Honolulu transmitted drug-resistant tuberculosis to at least six of her fellow passengers, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study.

In 2003, 22 people came down with SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, from a single fellow passenger who had SARS but didn’t have any symptoms, according to another New England journal study.

The surfaces that have tested highest for bacteria and other infection-causing germs include:

  • Security check points
  • Airplane blankets and pillows.
  • Latches for overhead bins
  • Tray tables
  • Tv screens/monitors

Here are five ways to avoid germs while traveling on a plane, as well as when you first arrive and leave the airport.

Sit towards the front. Ventilation systems on most commercial aircraft provide better air flow in the front of the aircraft.

Try to avoid coffee or tea on an airplane. Monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that water in airplanes’ water tanks isn’t always clean — and coffee and tea are usually made from that water, not from bottled water, according to Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association.

The EPA advises anyone with a suppressed immune system or anyone who’s “concerned” about bacteria to refrain from drinking coffee or tea on an airplane.

“While boiling water for one minute will remove pathogens from drinking water, the water used to prepare coffee and tea aboard a plane is not generally brought to a sufficiently high temperature to guarantee that pathogens are killed,” according to the EPA’s Web site.

According to the EPA, out of 7,812 water samples taken from 2,316 aircraft, 2.8 percent were positive for coliform bacteria. Although that sounds like a small number, this means 222 samples contained coliform bacteria.

If possible, try bringing your own bottle of water, coffee or tea onto the plane.

Sanitize your hands after using the bathroom. Obviously, a toilet on an airplane “is among the germiest that you will encounter almost anywhere,” said Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona. “We always find E. coli on surfaces in airplane restrooms.”

Since you’ll probably touch the bathroom door handle while returning to your seat, sanitize your hands again when you return to your seat.

Wash or sanitize your hands after getting off an escalator. Tests show that high-volume surfaces like escalator handrails in airports are full of germs.

Wash or sanitize your hands after using an ATMs. ATMs, especially in busy places like airports, are also full of germs.

Keeping your hands clean is crucial. Why? Because you’re touching surfaces that have been touched by thousands of people before you.