Hand Sanitizer Prevents Cold and Flu

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?

Hand Sanitizer as Flu and Cold 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Keep rubbing for 30 seconds to kill all active germs.
  3. 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.

How to Fight The Flu

Back to work season means another thing around here: back to cold season. I’m not talking about the weather, but about that pesky little virus that seems to travel around the office once the thermostat dips to a certain level. I’m a big advocate for prevention, so you’ll never catch me without a fresh bottle of hand sanitizer and a full stock of multivitamins.

Prevention is great when it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Case in point, Brigid. She’s been fighting a tickle in her throat all week and although she keeps insisting that she’s “just fine”, I can tell she’s not feeling herself.

I hate to penalize anyone for being a hard worker, but sometimes you just have to throw pride to the wind and accept the inevitable: Brigid is sick and needs to go home. And so I head over to her desk to give her the “bad” news.

Flu - Nose Blowing

“Brigid,” I start, “you aren’t seeming yourself today. Has that bug finally caught you?”

She masks a sniffle and her already red nose. “No!” she insists. “I’m still just fighting it off. Nothing a few doses of cold medication can’t fix.”

I let out a sigh and give my best concerned look, “But Brigid, your poor nose! I think you need a day off. You aren’t helping anyone if you wind up getting even worse. Rest is the best medicine.”

She looks a bit hurt, as though I’ve called her bluff. “Really, though, I can stay –”

“I know you can,” I reassure her, “but what if someone else winds up catching it? Or worse, you run yourself into the ground and wind up with pneumonia? Please, Brigid, take the day off. Just one day. If you feel better tomorrow, you should come in. If you wake up feeling beat, just stay in bed and know that I’ve got you covered.”

I can see the look of resistance on her face soften. She’s giving in. “I guess a nap would be pretty nice right about now.”

I let out a little chuckle, “Of course it would be! Your body needs it.”

“Can I just finish up these emails first?” she asks me.

“How about you fire off a quick response saying that you will address your emails tomorrow. Let people know that you are taking a sick day.” I smile, relieved that Brigid will be going home to rest.

“Okay,” she says as she cracks a meek smile. “I’ll be out of here soon, then, Rona.”

“That’s what I like to hear! Rest up.” I say to her as I turn to walk back to my office.

When an employee is sick, it’s always a delicate balance to make sure that they are taking care of themselves while also protecting the health of everyone else in the office. Had Brigid insisted on staying for the day, I may have offended her in suggesting that the rest of us are better off without her. As far as I’m concerned, no project deadline is worth the health of my employees. I’m so lucky to have staff that agrees with me.

A quick pump of hand sanitizer and I’m ready to tackle my own emails. Suddenly, though, I feel a bit of a chill. Is it just me, or is my office especially cold today? And maybe I need a sip of water, because there seems to be a tickle in my throat…