According to the latest research published this Sunday, regular use of alcohol-based disinfecting hand gels has little effect on the H1N1 swine flu infection rates. The authors of the study said that the infection is spread by air droplets rather than touch and contact.
The authors write, “An alcohol hand disinfectant with enhanced antiviral activity failed to significantly reduce the frequency of infection with either rhinovirus or influenza.” The study was presented on Sunday at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC). ICAAC is the principal international meeting on infectious diseases that has brought together nearly 12,000 specialists to Boston for presentations and discussions to be held between September 12-15.
For the study the subjects disinfected their hands roughly every three hours over ten weeks between August 25 and November 9, 2009. Of that group, 42 out of 100 contracted rhinovirus infections, compared to 51 out of 100 in the control group. Similarly, 12 of those regularly disinfecting their hands contracted swine flu, compared to 15 in the control group.
Lead author Ronald Turner of the University of Virginia and his team say, “The hand treatment also did not significantly reduce the frequency of illnesses caused by the viruses.” The add, “The results of this study suggest that hand transmission maybe less important for the spread of rhinovirus than previously believed…This study suggests that protection from infection with these viruses may require increased attention to aerosol transmission of virus.”
The study was financed by the Dial Corporation, which makes various care and cleaning products, including alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hand washing as a way to keep from getting sick and spreading illnesses.
According to Dr. Lilian Peake, director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, it is too early to comment on this study and more peer reviewd studies are necessary for decision making. Peake said her office bases its health recommendations on what the CDC and state health department suggest.
Dr. Turner however agreed that these results are not fool proof. He assured that hand sanitizer is effective for gastrointestinal diseases, particularly in the developing world. According to a 2002 CDC study, sanitizers were better at reducing bacteria on hands than did antibacterial soap.