At this time of year, you can’t avoid them: the co-workers with sniffly noses, fellow commuters with chest coughs or the spouse with a stomach bug. Cold and flu season is here.
Though you can’t avoid sick people, you can avoid catching their cold or flu. You’ve heard that prevention is the best medicine and that regular hand sanitizing plays an important role. But just how effective is hand sanitizing when it comes to virus prevention?
Better than hand washing alone
There are two ways to catch a virus, through breathing contaminated air or by touching a contaminated surface and then your face. You can’t control what air you breathe, but you can control whether viruses stay on your hands. Hand sanitizer is incredibly effective at eliminating those viruses. For a study in BMC Infectious Diseases, a group of office workers used hand sanitizer at least five times each day. The research shows that these employees were then two-thirds less likely to contract a virus than workers who regularly washed their hands but did not use hand sanitizer.
The most important step for prevention
Hand sanitizer works, but aren’t there other ways to prevent cold and flu? Diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors are important, but nothing stacks up to clean hands. In an article on Real Simple, Dr. Susan Rehm, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says that hand sanitization is “number one, two and three on any list of ways to prevent infection.”
How to use hand sanitizer to prevent cold and flu
The devil’s in the details. To ensure you’re eliminating all of the germs you pick up, follow these steps when using hand sanitizer.
- Use enough to saturate your entire hand. A small amount won’t do. Be sure you’ve covered the front and back of your hands, in between your fingers and your nails.
- Keep rubbing for 30 seconds to kill all active germs.
- Make sure the sanitizer dries completely. Do not remove excess sanitizer from your hands. Instead, keep rubbing until all of the hand sanitizer is absorbed.