Hand Hygiene: From Sanitizers to Contact-Free Solutions
Hand hygiene is effective in preventing infections. Cleaning our hands can prevent the spread of germs, including those that are resistant to antibiotics. Unfortunately, the average healthcare provider washes their hands less than half of the time they should. And, as a result, on any given day, on average, one in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection.
Why hand sanitizer is crucial
Hand sanitizer kills most bacteria on the majority of surfaces. Alcohol-based sanitizers can reduce about 97% of the bacteria on your hands. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 60% alcohol content which has proven to kill over 99.9% of germs.
- Time-Saving - if there isn’t time to wash hands, sanitizer can be as effective but in far less time if done correctly - 30 seconds of using hand sanitizer kills as much bacteria as two full minutes of handwashing.
- Portable and Convenient - when soap, water, or a sink aren’t available, having access to portable sanitizers is an excellent option. There are small bottle sanitizer sizes that fit into a purse, hand pumps to have at a desk, wall-mounted units, or floor stands to offer access to hand sanitizer to employees and customers.
- Reduces employee sickness and absenteeism due to illness - proper hand hygiene can reduce absenteeism at work by up to 40%. Employees who use sanitizer at least five times each workday are 67% less likely to get sick.
Fact vs. Fiction
There have been misconceptions about alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Here are some truths regarding hand sanitizers.
- Hand Sanitizers DO NOT Cause Antibiotic Resistance – There is a myth that hand sanitizers can cause antibiotic resistance. This myth is not valid. Antibiotics are ingested, and they operate differently than alcohol-based sanitizers. The alcohol in the sanitizers quickly kills a broad spectrum of germs, and it does not remain on your skin to enable the germs to develop resistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the leading source of antibiotic resistance is the abuse of antibiotics.
- Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers DO NOT Cause Supergerms – The myth that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can create “super germs” is false. The truth is that ethyl alcohol, the primary element in some hand sanitizers, promptly kills the cell membranes and proteins. The alcohol is not left behind to let the germs become resistant or become what some people call “super germs.”
- Cross-contamination and germs - is the process of contaminating from one surface to another surface with bacteria and viruses. Bloodborne viruses can live on objects for up to a week. These germs will spread if the surfaces are not disinfected the right way or if the tools are not cleaned and sterilized between clients. After you use hand sanitizer, then don’t touch your face or a door, pet your cat, and then offer to make a sandwich for someone. Your hands are not clean.
- There is no “half-life” after using hand sanitizer – If you think that hand sanitizers will remain on your hands for hours, think again. Hand sanitizers can only protect for – not an hour - not half an hour – but for only two minutes!
- All Germs ARE NOT the Same - There are two different types of germs – transient organisms and resident organisms. The resident microorganisms live on the skin layers. Transient organisms are acquired by touching something. Therefore, they can be transmitted into your body or to someone else by other things you may have touched (i.e., cross-contamination), putting you and others at risk for illness.
- Sanitizers and formulations make a difference – true. Formulations that are alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not the same; they are quite different. The truth is that the formulation matters.
- Hand drying formulas – stay away from anything that is a specific brand, such as Purell. Some brands do tend to be more drying. Some tend to be stickier. Again, this goes back to the formulation. Most hand sanitizers have some skincare option to minimize skin damage from repeated, daily use.