Experts say reach for soap before hand sanitizer to kill flu virus

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MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) – With flu season in full swing, homes and offices are often stocked with gallons of hand sanitizer, which will most likely be gone after a just few months.

However, according to Nick Duncan, a family physician at Intermountain Cottonwood Medical Clinic, if the option is between washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, hand washing is more effective in fighting the flu.

“Just plain soap and water is the most effective way to inactivate the flu virus if you by chance had it on your hands,” Duncan said.

A recent study published in mSphere suggests that hand sanitizer is not as effective in fighting the flu as previously believed.

“There’s a mucus barrier that the virus has, and that can potentially make the hand sanitizer not as active as it otherwise could be,” Duncan said, citing the article for this information. “If there’s water involved, that tends to inactivate that barrier much better. That’s why hand washing would be the number one effective way to take care of not spreading the flu to other people,” he said.

However, hand sanitizer is certainly better than nothing if you don’t have the chance to wash your hands says Duncan. Just make sure that it has at least 60 percent alcohol in it to ensure effectiveness.

Duncan said its also important to make sure that you are applying hand sanitizer to your hands properly. He provided the following tips to use it correctly:

  • Make sure you have about a quarter-sized amount of hand sanitizer on your palm.
  • Make sure that the hand sanitizer reaches all of the surfaces of your hand, including the front and back of your hands, in between your fingers, your wrists, and your finger tips.
  • Saturate your hands with hand sanitizer
  • Keep working it into your hands until the hand sanitizer dries
  • Consider fingernail length- long nails can harbor more bacteria than short nails.

If your hands are physically soiled or you are about to eat, it is best to wash your hands if that is a possibility says Duncan. Otherwise, using hand sanitizer is a better option than doing nothing.

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