At the behest of concerned lawmakers and consumers, the FDA has started to review the safety of the antimicrobial chemical triclosan, which started as a surgical scrub but is now found everywhere from toothpastes to cutting boards. Triclosan is so ubiquitious that the CDC says that triclosan is present in the urine in 75% of Americans aged five and up. Studies have linked the chemical to hormonal irregularities and antibiotic resistance in animals. Furthermore, the FDA claims that tricoslan disinfects no better than plan soap and water. However, manufacturers dispute the claims about triclosan's safety and efficacy.
It's tempting to skip good ol' soap and water handwashing when instant hand sanitizers seem to do the same thing in half the time. One obvious distinction is that the sanitizer will not remove particles. For example, if you have dirt on your hands, running water will wash the dirt off -- a hand sanitizer will not.
However, even at the microbial level, using hand and soap seems superior for preventing the spread of pathogens.
The study found 53% of 45 facilities where there was a preference for hand sanitizers for routine hand-cleaning saw outbreaks of norovirus. Three facilities that turned primarily to sanitizers for routine cleaning and during outbreaks had multiple cases of confirmed norovirus outbreaks.
Of the 17 facilities found to have staff wash their hands with soap and water more often than using hand sanitizer for routine cleaning, 18% saw outbreaks of norovirus.
So when should one use hand sanitizers? The big benefit of hand sanitizers is that they're convenient to carry around and use. Apply a hand sanitizer in instances where it isn't possible or practical to wash your hands, such as when you don't have the time or when you don't have access to a sink. For critical uses (such as health care), though, you should rely to soap and warm water.
Nearly half of health care professionals around the world fail to comply with the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Save Lives: Clean Your Hands campaign. Only half (51.4%) of the 76,803 handwashing opportunities that the study observed were in compliance with the recommendation. Below are a few of the more interesting break downs on compliance.
- Nurses, 64% compliance
- Physicians, 48% compliance
- Europe, 64% compliance
- Americans, 26% compliance
- Ambulatory, 72% compliance
- Medical, 60% compliance
- Intensive care, 59% compliance
- Obstetrics, 37% compliance