Does hand sanitiser work?

Hospital bacteria becoming resistant is a big problem

Certain bacteria are growing to be intolerant to hand sanitizers

Hospital bacteria becoming tolerant towards alcohol-based hand sanitizers is a bigger problem indeed.

Globally, hospitals use isopropyl or ethyl alcohol-based disinfectants, such as hand rubs, to prevent patients from becoming sick from many germs. Characteristically hand sanitizers contain 60 % alcohol.

Enterococcus faecium is actually a common gut bacteria but can cause serious illness when encountered at a hospital, with the illnesses ranging from urinary tract infections to bloodstream and surgical wound infections.

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Cold water 'just as good as hot' for handwashing

"Antibacterial handwash is NO better than soap – and cold water kills as many germs as hot, experts claim," The Sun reports.

These were the main findings of a study looking at various methods of handwashing.

But the researchers only tested for E.coli bacteria, a leading cause of food poisoning. And for safety reasons, they used a strain of E.coli that isn't infectious.

The study found using colder water (15C) was just as effective at getting rid of bacteria as using hot water (38C), and antibacterial soap was not significantly more effective at removing bacteria than plain soap.

It also found washing your hands for slightly longer – 30 seconds as opposed to 15 seconds – is more effective at getting rid of the bacteria.

The researchers hope their study could be used by policymakers to inform handwashing guidelines.

But the study only compared two products, and also only looked at one organism, which doesn't cause infection in humans.

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Do hand sanitizers really work?

Everywhere you turn of late, it seems you’re confronted with a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. We asked Professor James Scott whether these formulations work—and if so, how?

Professor James Scott is an associate professor in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. He is cross-appointed to the Department of Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, and holds hospital appointments at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children. We originally spoke to him in the fall of 2009. This is an updated version of our original interview, reflecting some new research on the topic.

Does hand sanitizer work?

I was one of the skeptics. But as I have looked critically at the research that has come out, I can say yes, it really works. It works exceedingly well for most bacteria and viruses. It reduces the skin burden of bacteria much more effectively than soap and water and the amount of bacteria on the skin tends to remain lower for much longer than when soap and water is used.

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