Friend of the blog Don Schaffner of Rutgers University writes in this guest post:
I’m willing to go on record as saying that alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good thing. In fact, we have published research which shows that it works to inactivate a gram-negative surrogate organism present on the hands even in the presence of visible food debris.
As Doug is sure to remind me, every time I mention the benefits of hand sanitizer, it’s not a magic bullet. For example, it doesn’t work very well against some viruses. That said I’m encouraged by research that shows that it is possible to tweak the formulation of such products to get better effectiveness against viruses. Hand sanitizer also doesn’t work very well against parasites like Cryptosporidium.
No matter what your opinion, I hope you would agree that more research is better. One example comes from a manuscript recently accepted for publication in the Journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. I learned about the publication from a Reuters news story that Doug sent my way. According to the abstract, the authors investigated the potential protective effect of hand sanitizer use on the occurrence of diarrhea and/or vomiting in 200 international travelers, who were returning home, at an international airport.
The authors report that travelers who used hand sanitizer reported diarrhea and vomiting significantly less frequently than those who did not (17% vs. 30%, OR = 0.47; 95% CI [0.21–0.97], p = 0.04). While the reported p value reaches the level necessary for publication, authors should always beware of what we’ve come to call in my lab the green jellybean effect. There’s also a nice quote in the Reuters news story from Dr. Claire Panosian Dunavan, an infectious disease specialist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles who says “I suspect that the people who use hand sanitizer were more careful in ways that couldn’t be quantified.”
I was thinking the same thing. I was also thinking that someone ought to let those study authors know about Betteridge’s law of headlines.
Will I continue to use hand sanitizer? Of course. Do I think it will magically protect me from any illness?