As a parent and public school teacher (on hiatus), I frequently use hand sanitizer multiple times per day to ward off germs. I even use it on my son’s (20-month-old) hands a couple of times per day, especially if we are on the go – can’t trust those subway railings! Yup, I am sure the alcohol being absorbed into his skin is probably worse than the benefit of the sanitizer killing germs.
What am I really trying to prevent? Fewer colds, the flu, and peace of mind. Thanks to Josh K. for sending me this sobering article on hand sanitizers. How To Sell Germ Warfare, written by Darshak Sanghavi on Slate, provides background as well as research on this focus question: Can hand sanitizers like Purell really stop people from getting the flu?
The article will be enjoyed by most parents, especially the germ-o-phobes. It was a learning experience for me, including this bit – “But we need to be realistic about what Purell can do to fight flu in the home and in public. To begin, the influenza virus mostly spreads via tiny droplets in the air (for example, from sneezes)—not by dirty hands or surfaces—which limits the role of Purell. It probably wouldn’t matter even if flu transferred through hand contact, which is how most cold viruses spread. Though Purell kills them in the lab, hand sanitizers don’t stop their spread in the real world. The average child touches his or her mouth and nose every three minutes, and both adults and children come in contact with as many as 30 different objects every minute. Even hospitals can’t get staff to use Purell before seeing patients; it’s impossible for daycare staff, parents, or teachers to wash a child’s hands 20 times each hour.