Hand sanitizers may not be so clean after all

By Gail Katherine Ziegler
April 27, 2006

Hand sanitizers are a part of an increasingly germ-aphobic culture, but a recent study from Emerging Infectious Diseases suggests that at least one brand and homemade versions may not be doing the job that they promise to be doing, according to nytimes.com.

The New York Times pointed out that the problem with the hand sanitizers was that the alcohol concentration was not high enough in some forms. “Make sure that whichever of those alcohols is listed, its concentration is between 60-95 percent. Less than that isn’t enough,” according to nytimes.com.

Ryan Kelliher, a computer information science junior, uses Purell. Purell.com states that they use a 62 percent concentration of ethyl alcohol, which according the article on nytimes.com puts Kelliher in the clear. He said, “I use it once a day, maybe.”

Kelliher also prefers it to hand-washing, which the nytimes.com article said to be careful about. “Washing with plain old soap and water should be your first choice,” according to the article.

Victoria Bauer, a senior science major, uses anti-bacterial lotion from Bath and Body Works. The active ingredient is triclosan at .3 percent. A WebMD.com article pointed out that this chemical only kills about 90 percent of the bacteria. “By killing those 90 percent and allowing the remaining 10 percent to thrive,” according to WebMD.com, allows other organisms to mutate and develop resistance.

Bauer uses the lotion when she can’t get to a sink to wash her hands or when she touches something that’s dirty. Nytimes.com says that using the sanitizer when in a pinch could be “a really good idea.” The article goes on to say, “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, of the correct formulation, could be a godsend, not to replace soap and water, but as an important supplement.”

Amanda Stout, an English and communications junior, is an avid hand sanitizer user. Her brand is Dove and its form is foam. She uses it five or six times a day and sporadically. Stout said, “I don’t use it as a replacement for hand washing. I use it when my hands feel really gross or in the car I’ll put it on the steering wheel. I also use it before I eat in a restaurant.”

The New York Times said, “The faulty gel seemed to mobilize the bacteria, spreading them around the hand instead of killing them.” Even though she knows that some brands may not work, Stout said, “It makes me feel better anyway.”

Courtney Saunders, a secondary education sophomore, uses Dial to sanitize her hands after she uses the bathroom or if she touches a doorknob. The bottle that she was carrying in her purse stated that the formula contained 62 percent of ethyl alcohol, keeping Saunders’ hands germ free. However, Saunders said that she prefers hand sanitizers to soap and water.

In October of 2005 a group that had been appointed by the Food and Drug Administration discussed “whether consumers should also be encouraged to use the alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” and a decision is expected this month, according to The New York Times.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Gail Katherine Ziegler

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