CDC: hand sanitizer useless against norovirus

Although alcohol-based disinfectants prevent certain strains of flu, they are “useless” against viruses – including the norovirus – that are not coated in lipid “envelopes,” the New York Times reports.

The chilling news is based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the winter of 2006-07, researchers norovirus-2determined that facilities in which staff used alcohol-based sanitizers were six times more likely to have an outbreak of norovirus compared to those in which staff cleaned their hands using soap and water.

“This study suggests that preferential use of [alcohol-based hand sanitizer] over soap and water for routine hand hygiene might be associated with increased risk of norovirus outbreaks,” the researchers concluded.

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  • Howdy,
    I did some research after seeing your blog posted on Facebook. I was a little surprised to see that a University Professor would post such an assertion without doing some of the fact checking on the NYT article. Because clearly the NYT writer did not. I took it upon myself to do some research and then emailed some experts at NIH and CDC to clarify understanding of some of the research. The CDC person stated that they were not happy with the NY Times article because of the lack of control for biases in their research. Additionally, newer research methodologies since 2007 have evolved by testing degree of infectivity vs. viral rna left behind and has become a more reliable method of testing effectiveness. You might wish to review the article yourselves…
    Park, G.W., Barclay, L., Macinga, D., et al, (2010) Comparative Efficacy of Seven Hand Sanitizers against Murine Norovirus, Feline Calicivirus, and GII.4 Norovirus. Journal of Food Protection, 73(12).

    It has also been integrated into the most current guidelines in dealing with norovirus at the CDC.

    I understand the lure of putting what appears to be big news out on the blog — but I think as people with the education and training you have (as well as myself) we ought to do our due diligence before doing so. I think your blog is cool, and I am willing to bet that people listen to your recommendations — especially as PhD’s in the area of your specialty. While I am not touting the value of hand sanitizer, I do think it’s better than nothing if nothing safer exists at the time. I do also want to thank you for posting as it got my dander up and made me look into things and I learned a lot!

  • Hand sanitizers are not “useless” against the Norovirus. However, according to the CDC they should be used only if you are not able to wash your hands. We all know that nothing works as well as a good handwashing.

  • observer

    So mother was right after all! Wash your hands!

  • Randy Lyons

    I would like to add my comments to this discussion. I am not a scientist, but I do a lot of reading and studying to keep current on food related issues.
    I did read the post as a NYT article and not Dr.Powell’s opinion. Having said that, a few years ago I probably would have interpreted the article as his. What does that tell me, other than my reading skills are improving? One must use caution and be willing to take the time to decipher articles/reports/studies and other sources of infomation.
    As a person who tries hard to do what is right, I rely heavily on the scientific community for accurate information. This can be very frustrating when others, who are far more educated in the subject matter than I, appear to have different views or opinions. There is lots of literature that supports and dispels the effectiveness of Alcohol hand rubs on Norovirus.
    My present work allows me the time to research material like this, but most lay-persons like me would not have that time or know how to begin the research.
    For those persons who read this blog and have the ability to consult on or influence training or education programs for the average worker, I ask that you remember that we are not scientists and we get very confused with all the different points of view. Please educate us on how and why the results are so different. Otherwise, and I say this from personal experience, we tend to disbelieve everything you say.
    I understand that each piece of scientific research is influenced by the parameters or the study. Through my personnel studies, I have come to realize that alot of studies are performed under situations that do not reflect real life situations. Why, because real life can not be replicated time and again. For science to accept the results, it needs to be replicated. Thus, this opens the door to argue the results. Real life research can not be replicated, so it is not valid and labratory research does not reflect real life, so are the results tranferable to the real world.
    We live in a world that loves the tabloids. The “press” used to research and verify facts before going to print. Now they jump to print and hide behind “freedom of the press”.
    As for the alcohol hand rub, is it useless, probably not, but is it all the manufacturer would like us to believe it is, probably not. It can’t hurt to use it during an outbreak, but I would certainly not rely on it to fix the problem. That is how I understand all the information.