CBS PITTSBURGH — Missing work because you’re sick? It’s a big problem with 407 million days of lost time at the cost of $260 billion a year. There may be an easy way to avoid illness and it’s within your reach.
“We know that hand hygiene is probably the single most effective means to prevent the spread of infection,” says Dr. Andrew Sahud, an infectious diseases specialist at Allegheny General Hospital.
In a German study, two groups of city workers were compared — one given alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The other went on with life as usual. Respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms were tracked along with days of work. In 130 people followed over one year, the group that got hand sanitizer had fewer sick days.
Precisely measuring use, instead of asking people to remember how often they used it, and longer follow up to account for seasonal variations, could have strengthened the study. But it seems to be on the right track. “The study is probably suggestive of the correct trend,” says Dr. Sahud.
Hand sanitizers contain 70 percent rubbing alcohol, the concentration needed to disrupt the outer portions of viruses and bacteria in effect, killing them. The effect seems to last longer than soap and water. It can also be less drying to the skin if it contains moisturizer.
While it may not kill all microbes, it gets all but a small minority. “C. diff, for instances, the spores are not killed by the hand sanitizer,” says Dr. Sahud.
In fact, the CDC prefers it to soap and water. With soap and water, you need to lather for 15 to 20 seconds and cover all surfaces of your hands. Similarly, with hand sanitizer you need to use enough to cover the entire surface of your hands. But when you do that, you’re actually killing the germs, not just washing them away.