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Morning Rounds: when is hand sanitizer the right choice?

Posted at 1:12 PM, Feb 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-04 13:12:08-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Last week, the FDA issued a warning to the maker of Purell hand sanitizer to stop making unproven claims that it can eliminate diseases like Ebola, MRSA and the flu.

“Hand sanitizers are effective against most bacteria but don’t work well against viruses,” explained news 3 medical expert Dr. Ryan Light. “Hand washing with soap and water is superior to hand sanitizers, cleansing the hands of bacteria and viruses.”

Dr. Light said hand sanitizers are a good alternative if a sink is unavailable for washing or if the goal is to only kill bacteria.

“Alcohol based hands sanitizers contain approximately 70 percent alcohol which works well against bacteria, but provides little protection against viruses,” said Dr. Light. “Nonalcohol-based hand sanitizers contain benzethonium chloride which can provide protection against bacteria for up to four hours but has limited affect against viruses.”

Dr. Light said there are risks associated with overuse of hand sanitizers, including drying and cracking of the skin, eye irritation and intoxication if it is consumed.

He said the best ways to combat viruses are to:

· wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

· avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands

· avoid close contact with people who are sick