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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Healthy Geezer: Types, use of hand sanitizers detailed

Wednesday, December 25, 2019 by FRED CICETTI Special to The Press in Focus

Editor’s Note: In the last two “Healthy Geezer” columns, the topic was gastroenteritis and noroviruses. In this column, the topic is hand sanitizers to fight germs that cause stomach infections.

Germs are microbes that cause disease. Microbes are microscopic organisms that are everywhere. Some microbes cause disease. Others are essential for health. Most microbes belong to one of four major groups: bacteria, viruses, fungi or protozoa.

Among the most common germs are noroviruses. These give you gastroenteritis, mistakenly called stomach flu. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It is not related to flu, a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

Norovirus, the common term for the infection, is highly contagious and spreads swiftly wherever there are crowds of people: nursing homes, dormitories, hotels and cruise ships, for example. Usually, noroviruses are found in contaminated food or drinks, but they also live on surfaces. They can be spread through contact with an infected person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best defenses against norovirus are washing your hands with soap and water often, avoiding handshakes during outbreaks and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Hand sanitizers are available in gels, foams, wipes and sprays. While the active ingredient in most of these products is alcohol, others use triclosan and benzalkonium chloride.

The level of alcohol in most sanitizers is 62 to 65 percent. It is effective against most bacteria, fungi and many viruses. Alcohol dries the skin, irritates sores and doesn’t protect against new germs that infect the hands.

Triclosan comes in a concentration of about 0.1 percent. It kills bacteria, but not viruses. Triclosan is usually non-drying and won’t sting. It provides short-term protection from new germ exposure when it dries.

Benzalkonium chloride (BAC) and its close relative, benzethonium chloride, are synthetic germicides. BAC is a newer active ingredient in hand sanitizers. It is part of a group known as Quats, which have been used for about 70 years in thousands of products such as Lysol, Bactine and Wet Ones.

BAC is at 0.1 percent in hand sanitizers. It is a full-spectrum germ killer and seems to provide short-term protection against more germ exposure.

Which kind of hand sanitizer should you use to avoid norovirus? There’s a body of evidence that alcohol sanitizers are not very effective against norovirus, but that hand sanitizers with BAC provide protection against the bug.

The recommended application method is the same for all hand sanitizers. Put some on and rub it over all areas of your hands. Use enough so that it stays wet on your hands for at least 15 seconds for maximum effect.

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All Rights Reserved © 2019 Fred Cicetti

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health-care provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.