Concern of Swine Flu sees the Use of Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer soar

Sanitizing hand wipes await patrons entering a Canton Safeway as well as in other areas of the grocery store. Dispensers are becoming common in office buildings, hospitals and schools as more people are mindful of the H1N1 virus and the debate about whether using soap and water is adequate.

When Sandy Summers picks up her children - ages 6 and 10 - at elementary school, they're greeted with squirts of hand sanitizer.

"When they get in the car, I put a glob on their hands," said the nurse, who lives in Homeland. "If they're going to eat a snack in the car, I make them use some. ... If I go to the grocery store, when I get in the car, the first thing I do is use the sanitizer. If I forget to use it before I touch the steering wheel, I put a whole bunch on my hands and just wipe it all over the steering wheel.

"With the flu season approaching, I find that we're using it more."

The germ-killing gel, foam and spray is suddenly everywhere, with dispensers bolted to walls in supermarkets, hospitals and kindergarten classrooms, with giant bottles standing guard at church services, with tiny ones stowed in purses, briefcases and backpacks. Fears of H1N1 flu have led the state to install dispensers in the public areas of all 56 of its office buildings.

Hand sanitizer has grown into a more than $112 million-a-year industry in the United States, and sales have been rising, much of it due to the swine flu pandemic. With the mantra "wash your hands" being practically shouted from the rooftops - President Barack Obama has encouraged it, while Sesame Street's Elmo is sharing the message in public service announcements - many people are using alcohol-based sanitizer as a quick and convenient alternative to good old soap and water.

And while some efforts are being made to more frequently disinfect surfaces where the swine flu virus may live - subway cars and buses in Washington are undergoing weekly cleansings - governments and businesses are putting out sanitizer in hopes that people will protect themselves and others around them by actually using the stuff. Liberally.

"Everyone has a role to play in stopping the spread of flu," said David Paulson, spokesman for the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "Everyone has to take personal responsibility. That means keeping clean, covering your cough, getting the vaccine."

The conventional wisdom among public health officials is that hand sanitizer works well, but soaping up at the sink is best because it is the only way to wash off dirt. But others say hand sanitizer may actually be better, especially since so few people wash their hands properly and because the gels are always at the ready when you have sneezed or pushed an elevator button or turned a doorknob.

"It's actually better than soap," said Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center. "Soap and water does not kill germs. Soap and water washes them off your skin. ...

"The best thing you can do for yourself is wash appropriately with soap and water, 15 to 20 seconds," he said. "[But] most people don't wash appropriately because they don't do it long enough, suds up appropriately, don't get in between the digits."

Studies have shown for years that people don't wash their hands as often or as well as they should.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers only work if their alcohol concentration is greater than 60 percent (some products have 40 percent), experts say. Less is known about those marketed as alcohol-free.

In some places, schools have banned the use of alcohol-based sanitizers because of their alcohol content and concerns about accidental or even intentional ingestion.

Still, few see much downside to the ubiquity of sanitizers.

"The hand sanitizer tends to be more convenient. It tends to be less of an issue of drying [out] your hands," said Dr. Richard Boehler, chief medical officer at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. "If you're washing your hands 20 to 30 times a day ... hand sanitizers seem to do a better job of keeping the skin intact."

Boehler said the recent swine flu outbreak has not changed St. Joseph's emphasis on hand sanitizer. The hospital became vigilant about its use several years ago after cases of hospital-acquired MRSA infections (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) were becoming a problem. Boehler said the religious use of hand sanitizer among staff cut MRSA infections by 50 percent.

"Our staff use it before they enter a patient's room and after as they are leaving," he said. "You'll find it all over. You'll see signs encouraging it. I wouldn't say we're fanatical, but we're really vigilant about it and vigilance is what you need."

Sales of hand sanitizer have been rising along with fears of the swine flu.

For the 12 weeks ending Aug. 9, sales in the category were up 19 percent from a year earlier, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. The data include supermarkets, drugstores and mass-market retailers, excluding Walmart.

"The gold standard is, of course, soap and water," said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Washington-based Soap and Detergent Association, an industry trade group. "But let's face it, we're not always around soap and water in our daily travels. The good thing is the sanitizer products are portable. You can't always take the soap and water with you."

Since it is made with alcohol, hand sanitizer - when used properly - kills most every germ it comes in contact with, unlike some antibacterial soap products that have led to worries about antibiotic resistance (a claim Tierno dismisses). The main thing it won't kill, Boehler said, is the intestinal bacteria Clostridium difficile, so staff who deal with patients with diarrhea must use soap and water.

Sanitizer kills down to the DNA of bacteria or viruses, Tierno said, meaning there is little chance of creating resistant organisms. But he cautions that just as with hand washing, hand sanitizers need to be used properly. Be sure to use a quarter-sized dollop and rub it on the top and bottom of the hand, between the fingers and into the nail bed, he said.

Still, Dr. Allison E. Aiello, a professor at University of Michigan School of Public Health who has studied hand sanitizer, said while there is a benefit to good hand hygiene, no studies have been done to see whether sanitizers or soap and water are more effective at reducing the spread of influenza. But, she said, sanitizer "does not seem to be inferior."

Hand washing alone won't protect from the flu this fall, Aiello said, because the respiratory illness is spread by water droplets and a sneeze sends those droplets far and wide with great speed. She hopes people will be sure to sneeze into their sleeves and stay home if they are sick in order to slow the virus.

Kids are learning proper respiratory etiquette at a young age, Boehler said, but adults have been slow to catch on.

Hand Sanitizing tips
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol.
Use a dime- to quarter-size dollop of the sanitizer. Make sure to cleanse the top and bottom of hands, in between the fingers and in the nail bed.
Try not to sneeze or cough into hands. This only promotes the spread of the flu. Use your sleeves when possible.

Resource: www.baltimoresun.com


Back to School Israelis getting ready with Antibacterial Hand Gel

As the summer ends, Israelis are preparing for more than the usual back-to-school and Jewish holiday periods. This year they are also getting ready for swine flu.

While Israelis have not been asked to change their hugging and kissing habits - yet - as elsewhere in the world, nonetheless the first signs of hysteria over the H1N1 virus are appearing.

Sales of cleaning and sanitation products have leaped by thousands of percent. Representatives of the SuperPharm pharmacy chain say they have not seen anything like this since the Second Gulf War - hand sanitizing gel sales are up 4,000 percent since the school year started last week.

In the last two days, the chain sold 50,000 units of the gel. Suppliers can't keep up with the demand, and have been forced to supplement local products with Asian imports.

But the Health Ministry has yet to publish recommendations calling on the public to stock up on sanitary products or face masks, and says the usual measures are enough: wash your hands, and cover your mouth with a handkerchief when sneezing or coughing. Most importantly, don't touch body parts where flu viruses concentrate and have the best chance of infection: the mouth, nose and eyes.

Overdoing it, and violating ministry rules

"One third of the meeting before the opening of the school year was devoted to swine flu," said the mother of a Tel Aviv first-grader. She said the children were asked to come to class with wet wipes and hand cleansing gel. Any child who misses a day of school must return with a doctor's note, saying he or she is not infectious.

However, the Education Ministry has not instructed students to bring sanitation materials to school. "One of the ways to avoid flu infection is being hygienic, washing hands with soap and water only," the ministry says. It "objects to requiring parents to equip their children with chemical preparations."

As with most ad campaigns in Israel, the Health Ministry's campaign against swine flu has its ultra-Orthodox version. It is similar to the one for the general public, but the cartoon characters washing their hands are all wearing skullcaps.

The ultra-Orthodox community is no less worried about what it calls Mexican flu - to avoid mentioning the name of unkosher animals - than the public at large. However, despite the large number of infections in yeshivas, there are no plans to cut back on mass learning, public prayers or holiday meals.

Creative solutions have appeared to avoid infection and increase public awareness. For example, ritual baths now have signs calling on the public to avoid infection. Even the Gerer Hassidim have given up their generations-old custom of sharing the rabbi's Shabbat wine, and now each Hasid gets his own disposable cup.