Effective way to use sanitizers

March 13, 2020

WOULD you just spray sanitizers and alcohol to kill germs? People had been panic buying since Tuesday even before President Duterte placed Metro Manila in community quarantine – alcohol and hand sanitizers (disinfectant) topping the list of purchases.

Panic-buying of alcohol and hand sanitizers has forced grocery retailers and supermarkets to limit sales to two bottles only per consumer to avoid hoarding and overuse and abuse of disinfectants.

Hand washing is still the best method for removing the virus. But gel is useful if soap and water is not available, for example while you’re out and about in public, or when you’ve touched surfaces around the office.

Several studies showed that frequent use of alcohol-based hand gels can stop many respiratory viruses in their tracks.

Health experts said a sanitizer needs to be at least 70 per cent alcohol.

Most alcoholic drinks — even those with high percentage — are only about 40 per cent alcohol, which means they are unlikely to destroy the virus.

A 2014 study by scientists from the University of Arizona in the U.S. looked at what happened to viruses in the home when family members regularly cleaned their hands with an alcohol-based gel, as well as hand washing as normal.

They monitored a total of seven households, each comprising two parents and at least two children.

One of the adults in each home — the designated “spreader” — had their hands coated in a liquid containing infectious viruses and bacteria.

After eight hours, the scientists found signs of contamination on each family member’s hands, as well as frequently used surfaces throughout the home.

In short, the virus was running wild among family members.

They then repeated the experiment, but this time placed bottles of sanitizing hand gel all over the house, advising volunteers to use them up to three times a day.

The results showed that this reduced the level of viral contamination on hands and surfaces by a huge 99 per cent.

Other experiments by the same researchers found the spread of viruses in the workplace is cut by 84 per cent when employees are encouraged to use alcohol gel routinely throughout the day.

Professor Mark Wilcox, a microbiologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust,
recommends using a hand sanitizer every time that your hands come into contact with a potentially contaminated surface, for example, after using public transport or going to the shops or any public place.

When you do use sanitizers? You must do so properly in order for them to work.

Professor Wilcox said it is not the amount you use in your hand but whether you rub your hands together properly so that the gel is applied to all parts of your hand.

“It doesn’t matter how much you put on. Getting right in between the fingers and thumbs, as well as covering the backs of the hands and each wrist is important,” he said.

That’s because if you put your hand anywhere near your face, the viruses can still be transmitted from your wrist to your mouth, nose or eye. These are the main entry points for coronavirus.

Professor Wilcox explained that there isn’t really an effective alternative to alcohol for cleaning your hands (file image)

Of course, all the pros in using alcohol are there but it can also be damaging to the skin itself — as anyone who is regularly using hand gel will testify.

This is because alcohol is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs surrounding water molecules. Regularly using hand sanitizers can therefore lead to dry skin. This can be problematic, especially for those with skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis.

Some hand gels are made with alternatives to alcohol, such as triclosan, a man-made chemical designed to combat the spread of infection. But triclosan is an anti-bacterial compound, and is therefore powerless against viruses such as coronavirus.

Other chemicals such as bleach will also kill coronavirus, but they are not advisable to clean hands as it can burn your skin.

Professor Wilcox advises waiting for your hand gel to dry before applying hand cream.

Here are other tips to remember:

* Hand washing with mild soap and water only at key times, such as after using the loo and before eating, can help if you do have sore or cracked skin. Then follow with moisturizer immediately afterwards. The rest of the time, carry an alcohol hand gel with moisturizer.

* If you do have dry or sore hands as a result of better hygiene, don’t plaster them in hand cream before applying the alcohol gel.

* If there is grease or any dirt on your hands, then the alcohol may not come into full contact with viruses lurking on the skin.

* Use the gel first and wait until it has dried, then apply your hand cream. This will not nullify the gel’s effect because alcohol kills the virus almost instantly. Once the gel has dried, any susceptible viruses on the skin should be dead.

* If you put hand cream on when the gel is still wet, it may not work as well and may interfere with the action of the alcohol.