At the St. Anne’s reception desk, we have a little plastic duck which has reminded many an inquisitive child or adult visitor not to forget to wash their hands. Along with offering a couple of quacks and a giggle, this darling duckling dispenser squirts out hand sanitizer when his pump is pushed down.
This coming week, December 7-13, is National Handwashing Awareness Week. Our little hand-sanitizing duck brings to mind a practical question: is hand-sanitizer really an effective alternative to hand-washing?
According to CDC, “alcohol-based hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.” Users are advised to use products containing at least 60 percent alcohol. CDC research has also found that “hand sanitizer doesn’t reduce the spread of some viruses such as the norovirus.” Also, the FDA does not advise hand sanitizers as a substitute, but only as an addition, to hand-washing when doing food-prep. Hand sanitizers strip the outer layer of oil on one’s skin, according to biology.about.com. Although hand-sanitizers may say they kill up to 99.9% of germs, that doesn’t mean they do in practical circumstances; products were tested on inanimate surfaces rather than on skin.
It seems, whenever possible, that good hand-washing technique is the best way to germs from spreading. And what is good technique? Sources recommend at least fifteen, and better yet, up to thirty seconds with soap and water. A helpful way of ensuring you’ve spent enough time “playing in the water” is to hum the tune “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice. Good technique also includes scrubbing “the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails,” according to homesafety.org.
Along with good hand-washing, disinfecting common surfaces, like doorknobs, telephones, computers, etc. is also a good preventative measure. Coughing into your elbow, rather than into your hand or the air also can help stop the spread of germs.
Here at St. Anne’s, although we offer hand-sanitizer to our residents, we strongly encourage hand-washing; this is especially important during cold and flu season.