Hand Sanitizers: Fact or Fiction?

Hand sanitizer gels are ubiquitous these days – and so are the myths surrounding these products.

Today, a CHOC Children’s infectious disease specialist comes clean on what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to hand sanitizing gels.Hand Sanitizer Tips

Fact: Hand sanitizers are a good option for removing some germs from hands.

“Washing your hands with soap and water is an effective way to keep clean, but hand sanitizers are useful when you are not near a sink and you can’t wash your hands,” Dr. Felice Adler says. “Sanitizers are also easy to take with you and pack on a trip. Sometimes you just don’t have a sink handy.”

Fiction: All hand sanitizers are created equal.

“It’s recommended that you look for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol,” Dr. Adler says. “Studies have shown that hand sanitizers with alcohol content between 60-95 percent are more effective at killing germs than those with lower alcohol content and non-alcohol based hand sanitizers.”

hand hygiene tips Fiction: Hand sanitizers remove dirt or grease better than soap and water.

While hand sanitizers will help to kill many (but not all) bacteria and viruses, they will not remove stubborn dirt or clean really filthy hands, Dr. Adler says. Hand washing with soap and water is preferred before preparing or eating food, after using the toilet, after handling animals or their food or waste, and when hands are visibly dirty.

The bottom line:

When it comes to keeping hands germ-free, there’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned vigorous hand washing with soap and water. However, a squirt of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be a good alternative.

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How Effective are Hand Sanitizers?

SONY DSCThough old-fashioned hand-washing is the best way to keep hands clean and combat germs, gel hand sanitizers are a good alternative when soap and water aren’t readily available, a CHOC Children’s physician says.

“They certainly don’t take the place of proper hand-washing,” says Dr. Negar Ashouri, a CHOC infectious disease specialist. “That is still the best way to help prevent the spread of infection. But when you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizers are a good alternative.”

Hand sanitizers can also supplement hand-washing, Dr. Ashouri says. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends scrubbing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. However, the average person doesn’t always wash their hands long enough or effectively enough to kill germs entirely. In addition, people don’t always use enough soap, or they don’t clean the entire hand.

If you coat the whole hand with the gel, alcohol-based hand sanitizers work well to help kill germs, she says. The CDC notes that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Hand sanitizers should be alcohol-based and have a concentration of at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective. Dr. Ashouri says any brand is fine as long as it meets that level of alcohol concentration.

Also, she adds that it’s a myth that people build a resistance to gel sanitizers and that long-term use renders them ineffective.

Learn more about CHOC’s infectious disease division.

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Kids and Germs

wash hands to kill germsWHAT ARE GERMS?

“Germs is a nonmedical term for any organism that can cause an infection,” says Dr. Nieves. What kind of infections? Kids, especially in schools, can contract respiratory infections as well as skin infections, says Dr. Nieves. To prevent the spread of germs, especially in classrooms, parents,  teachers and caregivers should make sure children are instructed on proper hygiene techniques, like handwashing.

Children should wash their hands:

  • Before eating
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After blowing their nose
  • After playtime

GERM BUSTERS

Sharing may be a good way for kids to learn social skills, but it’s not the best way to stay healthy, Dr. Nieves says. To shield children from “germ  monsters,” Dr. Nieves advises parents to encourage their children not to share items like utensils, food and drink. Also, making sure they are up-to-date on their vaccines and seasonal flu shot is key.

H2O vs HAND SANITIZER

If you’re not sure when soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers are in order, do a hand check. “When you see actual dirt and grime, you need soap and water,” says Dr. Nieves.  “You can use hand sanitizer when you know your child has touched something that may be contaminated, such as a door knob.”

FEELING BLUE?

It’s best for kids to stay home when sick, but if missing work to care for them isn’t an option, parents should ensure good communication with the school to minimize the spread of germs to other students. “If kids have a cold, they have to be extra cautious, washing their hands after touching their face or nose,” says Dr. Nieves.

FAST FACTS

  • Kids should spend 15 seconds vigorously washing their hands.
  • 60% is the lowest percentage of alcohol a hand sanitizer should contain.
  • 9-to-1 is the ratio of bleach to water in a solution that parents can make to kill germs.

View the full feature on Kids and Germs

Dr. Nieves
Dr. Delma Nieves
CHOC Research Specialist,
Pediatric Infectious Diseases

PHYSICIAN FOCUS: DR. DELMA NIEVES

Dr. Nieves began her work at CHOC in 2010. She completed her pediatric residency at CHOC and postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at the Mattel Children’s Hospital. Her clinical interests include infectious diseases of newborns and the immuno-compromised, with a  focus on pertussis. Her published works include “The Common Cold: Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases,” and several peer reviewed studies on the topic of pertussis in young infants.

Dr. Nieves’ philosophy of care: “I think the most important thing is to empower parents and children to be able to take care of themselves.”

EDUCATION:
University of Washington School of Medicine

BOARD CERTIFICATIONS:
General Pediatrics and Pediatric
Infectious Diseases

More about Dr. Nieves

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on September 16, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.

Reduce the Risks of Cold and Flu Bugs

It’s cold and flu season! While there’s no protection against germs at school or the workplace, there are ways to reduce the risks.

Your child might have a cold if he or she has a stuffy, runny nose, a sore throat, a hacking cough or sneezes frequently. The flu spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Signs of the flu include fatigue and weakness, a high fever, severe aches and pains, headache and a cough.

To help prevent these bad bugs, remind your little ones – and yourself – to:

– Wash hands often to keep from spreading germs.

– Place travel-size hand sanitizer in their backpacks.

– Postpone play dates with sick kids.

– Bundle up to stay warm. Wear appropriate outdoor clothing.

– Consider getting your child a flu shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly flu shots for all children ages 6 months and older. The best time to get the shot is October or November, however it’s not too late to get it now!

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