Thursday, November 25, 2010

❏This vs That ❐: Hand Sanitizers vs. Soap and Water

Welcome to Thursday's

As we prepare for the height of flu season, with health experts constantly telling us to "Wash your hands, wash your hands," I thought this would be a great time to discuss the differences between hand sanitizers versus good old soap and water.  Is one better than the other or can one be a 'susbstitube' for the other?

Let's find out what the most recent study says...

According to ScienceDaily  — A new study suggests that hand sanitizers containing ethanol are much more effective at removing rhinovirus from hands than washing with soap and water. Sanitizers containing both ethanol and organic acids significantly reduced recovery of the virus from hands and rhinovirus infection up to 4 hours following application.

The research was done at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Rhinovirus seems to be the common cause of cold cases in adults. Hand-to-hand contact is one of the main ways of transmissitting and contributing to the spread of this rhinovirus.  In the study researchers compared the effects of hand washing with soap and water and an ethanol-based hand sanitizer by contaminating the fingers of healthy volunteers with rhinovirus and then randomly grouping them and administering one of six hand treatments.

The experiments ranged from a control group who had no treatment, several groups who washed their hands for differing amounts of time (some with soap, some without), and several who used varying amounts of hand sanitizer. Results showed that the ethanol hand sanitizer removed approximately 80% of detectable rhinovirus from hands and was much more effective than no treatment, water alone, or soap and water. Soap and water removed rhinovirus from 31% of hands.

"Another article I've read did a similar experiment over a year ago, and involved the crew of "Good Morning America" with similar results...
"Good Morning America" put them all to the test. We went to the University of Maryland, a world leader in food safety and microbiology, and did a small, informal test in which we basically washed our hands until they were raw.

The Experiment
That's right. We deliberately put E. coli bacteria on our hands to see which products would wash it off. The E. coli we used for our experiment was a harmless strain, not the deadly E. coli 0-157.

After each test, we swabbed our hands to see if there was any bacteria left that would transfer to these special incubation plates.

First, hand sanitizers. One with alcohol as the active ingredient, versus another that was alcohol-free. The key with hand sanitizers is to use at least a half a teaspoon or enough that it takes 15 to 20 seconds before it's dry.

Next, we tried out some soaps. A recent British study showed using soap instead of water alone killed three times as many germs. We pitted regular bar soap against antibacterial bar soap, and regular liquid soap against antibacterial liquid soap.
Each time we washed, we counted out the full 20 seconds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

The Results
We came back to the University of Maryland three days later, after our samples had incubated.
We looked for white dots where E. coli colonies had grown on the incubation plates. The fewer the better. The first thing we noticed is that alcohol-based hand sanitizer clearly works the best.

In fact, the CDC says you should use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
As for soap, the antibacterial soap worked only slightly better than the regular soap.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends using only regular soap because of worries that germs will develop resistance, and people will develop laziness from high-tech soap.

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So in conclusion:

It seems overall, the hand sanitizer works best if the right amount of alcohol percentage is included.  However, using it often or in place of soap and water - is not recommended not only because as stated "germs will develop resistance', but for the simple fact that hand sanitizers cannot remove dirt and large particles like soap and water can . 

Having said that, when using soap and water -  washing your hands for at least 20 seconds is important.  The bottom line - technique over technology is the way to go!

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