Hand sanitizer can help in war against germs

By DJ Slater
Wausau Daily Herald

Ever since the H1N1 flu virus made its debut earlier this year, hand sanitizer has become a common sight in stores, offices and homes.

Health officials consider hand sanitizer a welcome addition in the fight against germs, especially in the colder months when bacteria and viruses are known to attack people’s immune systems.

With hand sanitizer now available virtually anywhere, health officials say it can prevent people from unknowingly spreading germs to others and can keep people healthy.

“We have some evidence that … the use of hand sanitizers can lower rates of absenteeism,” said Katherine Ellingson, an epidemiologist with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “We do know that pathogens that cause disease can be transmitted by hands. Hand hygiene makes good sense.”

According to the CDC, up to 80 percent of infections are spread by hands. Because most people touch their faces at some point during the day, the germs on their hands enter their bodies through their eyes, noses and mouths. Hand sanitizer can be the difference between catching a cold and staying healthy, Ellingson said.

In recent months, hand sanitizer has become widely available. Grocery stores have sanitizer dispensers throughout their buildings. So does City Hall in Wausau. Hand sanitizer can be found at schools, hospitals, workplaces and gas stations.

“They empty out quickly,” said Mary Gaikhe, the store manager of Crossroads County Market in Wausau, referring to the store’s hand sanitizer dispensers, which were installed in October. “They are definitely getting used.”

According to the CDC, the most effective hand sanitizers contain 60 percent to 95 percent alcohol. The sanitizer works by deactivating the bacteria on hands and has been shown to reduce viruses on hands as well, Ellingson said.

Hand sanitizers can be applied frequently because they do not lead to antibiotic resistance, she said. When used, hand sanitizer should be applied to every crevice of a person’s hands.

Hand sanitizers, though, should not be used when a person’s hands are very dirty, said Ruth Marx, the public health emergency preparedness coordinator for the Marathon County Health Department.

“The hand sanitizer will not sanitize through the soiled layer on your hands,” she said.

If soap and water are available, then hand sanitizer should be considered a secondary option, Marx said. But in settings such as grocery stores and schools, it doesn’t hurt to have it available.

“It’s a good thing to have,” she said. “If you make hand sanitizer easily accessible, people will use it.”

Additional Facts Sanitary tips

Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps to take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds.

When washing hands:

  • Wet hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use paper towel to turn off the faucet.

    When should you wash your hands?

  • Before preparing or eating food.
  • After using the bathroom.
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom.
  • Before and after tending to someone who is sick.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After handling an animal or animal waste.
  • After handling garbage.
  • Before and after treating a wound.

    If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean your hands.

    When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Apply product to the palm of one hand
  • Rub hands together
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry.

    Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

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