Alcohol SanitizersCommon ColdInfection

Swine flu not affected by hand sanitizers

During the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC), researchers from the University of Virginia reported that regular use of alcohol-based disinfecting hand gels has little effect on the Swine flu infection rate.

First, the details.

  • 200 people were assigned to a treatment group.
    • Disinfecting their hands roughly every 3 hours over 10 weeks using an alcohol hand disinfectant with “enhanced antiviral activity.”
    • A control group

And, the results.

  • 42 out of 100 people in the disinfecting group contracted rhinovirus infections vs 51 out of 100 in the control group — not a significant difference.
  • 12 of those regularly disinfecting their hands contracted the so-called swine flu vs 15 in the control group — not a significant difference.

The bottom line?

The authors did not characterize the results as a negative study on the value of alcohol sanitizers.

Rather, the key conclusion by the authors is, “Hand transmission may be less important for the spread of rhinovirus than previously believed.”

A PubMed Search of “effectiveness of alcohol hand sanitizer” revealed no other study where an alcohol-based product failed to reduce infection rate compared to no treatment.

Here are the results of 2 studies from that search.

  • Children’s Hospital Boston
    • “Hand sanitizer and surface disinfection reduced absenteeism caused by gastrointestinal illness in elementary school students.
    • Norovirus (causes stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis) was found less often on classroom surfaces in the group using the alcohol-based hand sanitizer compared to the control group.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
    • 430 students from residence halls at the university were assigned to use or not use an alcohol gel hand-sanitizer.
    • An increase in hand-hygiene behavior was associated with a significant reduction in symptoms, illness rates, and absenteeism vs the control group.
    • Using the sanitizer was associated with 43% fewer missed school/work days.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be effective in preventing swine flu transmission, but from a broader perspective, the weight of evidence supports their use to reduce symptoms, illness rates, and absenteeism associated with infection.

On this topic, Medscape has an interview with Dr. Georges Benjamin, who is executive director of the American Public Health Association.

The study was sponsored by Dial Corporation, which makes various care and cleaning products, including alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

9/13/10 15:22 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.