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Hand hygiene is key to preventing the flu

But researchers say it’s going to take more than just hand sanitizer

Photo (c) Orbon Alija - Getty Images
With colder months on the way, there will be more chances for infections to spread. Before flu season is fully underway, it’s a great time to think about what we all can do to prevent the highly contagious virus. 

A new study has revealed that hand sanitizer alone isn’t completely effective in killing the bacteria that spreads the flu from person-to-person. Researchers say more drastic measures need to be taken to help stop the infection. 

“The physical properties of mucus protect the virus from inactivation,” said researcher Dr. Ryohei Hirose. “Until the mucus has completely dried, infectious [influenza A virus] can remain on the hands and fingers, even after appropriate antiseptic hand rubbing.” 

Keeping hands clean

Based on previous studies, the researchers learned that ethanol-based disinfectants (EBDs) like hand sanitizer aren’t the most effective in stopping the spread of the flu virus. With that in mind, they set out to discover how consumers can do their best to keep the infection to a minimum. 

Dr. Hirose and his team ran various tests with infected mucus and EBDs. One of their primary goals was to be able to minimize the spread of the flu at doctors’ offices, as germs are easily transmitted among sick patients. 

The researchers learned that EBDs tend to struggle to deactivate the flu virus when infected mucus is wet, mainly due to its thickness. In one trial, they discovered that it took at least four minutes of exposure to the EBD for it to do the trick, as anything under the four-minute mark didn’t kill the germs of the flu virus. 

Ultimately, what this means for consumers is that when they use hand sanitizer to stay virus-free, the product doesn’t work instantly, and so the risk of developing the flu remains. 

Preventing flu outbreaks

However, the researchers did explain that EBDs tend to work differently if a consumer came into contact with infected mucus that was wet versus dry. Hand sanitizer can more easily attack the virus when the mucus is dry, killing the germs in up to 30 seconds. 

The researchers encourage consumers not to underestimate the power of simply washing their hands with antibacterial soap, as doing so can also kill the flu germs in under one minute. 

“These findings will greatly contribute not only to the development of a more effective method of preventing [influenza A virus] outbreaks, but also to the advancement of current hand hygiene and contact infection prevention strategies,” the researchers wrote.

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