By now we've all seen them. Waiting for us by the exit to the washroom, or by the entrance to the shopping mall, or in the arms of a couple of my drunken friends after Nuit Blanche. Hand sanitizers: Modern, do-good iconoclasts who are stealing the jobs of hard-working hand soaps. Saviour or menace? Two writers. Four hundred words each.
Gord Brown - Pro:
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in an era -- and a city – that is hyper-aware of the nature and consequences of the migration of communicable disease.
As a result, containers of hand sanitizers began to appear just about everywhere, including many buildings on the U of T campuses, when the H1N1 virus began to migrate from Mexico to both Canada and the U.S. in the same way that SARS migrated from Hong Kong to Toronto.
Consequently, many of us have begun to get into the habit of swabbing our hands at opportune moments.
But is the use of these products – found at the entrances to buildings as well as around washrooms and food courts -- a good idea?
The answer: yes they are. They are actually an effective means to fight the spread of disease and to protect one’s own health. There is, however, some misinformation floating around (the blessing and the curse of the Internet) regarding the use of hand sanitizers.
Part of this has to do with the confusion of alcohol-based hand-sanitizers with the growing trend toward using anti-bacterial soap. Doctors and researchers have warned that anti-bacterial soap may have a role in creating super bugs that are resistant to antibiotics. Research on this issue is inconclusive but worrying. Commercial hand sanitizers to combat this recent epidemic, however, are alcohol-based and are quite effective at killing bacteria and other pathogens. A dead bacterium can’t mutate. Problem solved.
In fact, a proper sanitizer (i.e. with minimum 62% isopropyl alcohol or the industry standard) are proven to be more effective than water and bar soap in stopping the spread of pathogens. To be most effective in stopping the spread of disease, use sanitizer especially before eating or shaking hands and certainly after coughing or blowing your nose.
Remember that running water is not always available or handy in these situations. Running water is still necessary to remove dirt or blood (for you MedSci students), but again is not as effective in dealing with pathogens.
Sanitizers also have to be in sealed containers (alcohol evaporates) and should include moisturizer (to protect skin). The containers found at the university and in other office buildings meet these criteria. Make use of these facilities (you might also want to keep a small bottle in your pocket or purse) until at least the end of cold and flu season.
After all, nobody want to fill out the paperwork for missing a major deadline or an exam for illness.
Andrew Gyorkos - Contra:Aside from doctors, nurses, and surgeons, the everyday fellow simply has no use for alcohol based hand sanitization. The full effects of such sterilizing rubs only last for mere moments before open air exposure contaminates the hands once again. While the quick fix may well recreate the end result of soap and water washing in a fraction of the time, it’s still an endeavour that’s nowhere near as robust as a good lather.
Firstly, people need to acknowledge that hand sanitizing is a different kettle of fish from hand washing. Hand sanitizers function on an antimicrobial level, primarily used to eradicate the vast majority of germs and effectively sterilize the hand. Hand washing, however, while not committing germ genocide to such an efficient degree, nevertheless cleanses the hand of soil, stain, and debris.
Using Purell won’t get rid of the filth present on hands due to everything from finger food to dirty jobs. It will sanitize the mess, sure; but the grime will still be there until you’re bothered to break out a bar of soap. Hand sanitizers are meant to eliminate the lingering germs on hands that are free of visible detritus, not take care of both in a single fifteen second rubbing.
Then there’s the fact that hand sanitizers are received differently based on skin type. The high alcohol content dries the skin, which makes it unappealing during colder weather and virtually intolerable for eczema sufferers. If the user is compelled to reach for moisturizer immediately after sterilization, does that not defeat the purpose?
People with weaker skin who use too much alcohol based hand sanitizers at once or too often also run the risk of being more susceptible to germs and viruses. Certain rubs with high alcohol contents are occasionally found to chemically deteriorate the layers of natural oil responsible for keeping bacteria at bay, in turn increasing vulnerability.
And thus is the flaw of alcohol based hand sanitizing revealed: its goal is not so much to cleanse the skin as it is to destroy the nasties present on it, even if it means undermining the integrity of the dermis’ natural defences. Hand sanitizers are a convenient and efficient solution for germaphobes who dread using handrails and doorknobs. But when you get right down to it, a quick fix is really all it is. A dab of antimicrobial magic is perfectly fine as a sterile layer of polish on the palms, but there’s simply no replacing the power of the lather and rinse routine.