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Should we use hand sanitizer?


These days, it seems that hand sanitizer is about as common in an office or household as a pen and paper. Hand sanitizers are a supplement or alternative to hand washing, and are available in gel, foam and liquid solutions.

There has been an ongoing debate regarding whether we should be using these products. The companies that market these “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” products say they are fine, while consumer advocates argue that they aren’t effective and have the potential to engender bacterial strains that resist antibiotics.

Gordon Trenholme, MD, director of the Section of Infectious Diseases at Rush University Medical Center thinks the best answer is common sense. Trenholme talks about the usefulness of hand sanitizers:

“They’re useful in the hospital, to help prevent the transfer of viruses and bacteria from one patient to another by hospital personnel. But beyond that, it’s very difficult to show that any of them are useful.

Outside of the hospital most people catch respiratory viruses from direct contact with people who already have them, and hand sanitizer won’t do anything in those circumstances. In any case, they certainly haven’t been shown to do anything more than just washing your hands. So while hand sanitizers have their place, washing with soap and water is almost always a better choice.”

Gordon goes on to say that hand sanitizer removes both good and bad bacteria, whereas washing your hands (for at least 20 seconds) with regular soap does a better job of “preserving the flora.”

“Your whole body is covered with bacteria, and if you remove those ‘good’ bacteria, they can be replaced by other, potentially harmful, ones. Natural bacteria are there for a reason.”

Trenholme finishes by saying that the most important way to keep germ free is to keep things clean. This includes tidying up your rooms and offices. Keeping things tidy will prevent the spread of unwanted bacteria much better than dabbing your hands with sanitizer several times over the course of a workday.

Overall, it seems its just better to take time every now and then to wash your hands thoroughly, rather than keeping a bottle of sanitizer around.