Hand Sanitizer Raises Red Flags

How are you fighting off COVID-19? If your only weapon against the Coronavirus is hand sanitizer, you may want to reevaluate your battle strategy.

Nowadays you can barely find any in stock in the grocery store. People are buying in bulk, either out of fear or they’re trying to make a quick buck with the sudden increase in demand. Some are even attempting to make their own. Amid this new viral takeover, the last thing you may want to hear about is the ineffectiveness of hand sanitizer.  But there are limitations to what hand sanitizers can do, and the FDA is putting a stop to false claims.

GOJO Industries, which produce Purell® products, recently got a warning letter from the FDA dated January 17, 2020 about statements that their hand sanitizer was effective against certain viruses.  The FDA writes “we are not aware of evidence demonstrating that the PURELL® Healthcare Advanced Hand Sanitizer products as formulated and labeled are generally recognized by qualified experts as safe and effective for use under the conditions suggested, recommended, or prescribed in their labeling.” This comes as a direct result from the claims on the PURELL® website and social media marketing. Their Frequently Asked Question section of their website says “The FDA does not allow hand sanitizer brands to make viral claims, but from a scientific perspective, influenza is an enveloped virus. Enveloped viruses in general are easily killed or inactivated by alcohol. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a preventive measure for flu prevention” Similar claims were made for Ebola, MRSA, and Norovirus.

For the record, the CDC’s page on hand hygiene has a plethora of exclusions and rules that come with using hand sanitizer. They first and foremost recommend using soap and water and you should only use hand sanitizer when you aren’t able to lather up. If your hands are visibly soiled, hand sanitizer will not be as effective in cleaning them. Hand Sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Hand sanitizers may not remove pesticides, harmful chemicals, or heavy metals. And finally, if you are using hand sanitizer, it must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective in any way.

A recent study from Japanese researchers also concluded that washing your hands with only water was more effective at deactivating the influenza A virus, whereas after 2 minutes of using an ethanol based hand sanitizer the virus was still present, as the mucus creates a protective barrier for the virus. When mucus is dry, hand sanitizers were effective in inactivating the virus in 30 seconds.  Of course, washing with soap is preferred, and further increases the disinfection effectiveness.

Remember – soap and water is the best hand hygiene.

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