There is no question that one of the simplest ways to prevent the spread of germs is by exercising proper hand hygiene.
But, while this simple act is usually impressed upon us as children, it is sometimes just not possible to practice conventional hand hygiene with soap and water.
Since then, the market has exploded.
A simple, but oftentimes necessary, product allows for proper infection control, even when best practices can''t be observed.
Increased Use And Visibility
While the importance of hand hygiene is not something that should ever be overlooked, it is not always at the forefront of people''s minds.
It can, unfortunately, take severe illness or a widespread outbreak for the importance of infection control and prevention to be seen as just as important as vaccines, cleaning for health or other well-known ways to prevent the spread of infectious germs.
The recent widespread and highly publicized outbreaks of the Avian Flu and H1N1 influenza (swine flu) have grabbed headlines and media attention.
The severity of these outbreaks often causes panic and leaves individuals looking for ways to protect themselves and their families.
Pandemics often lead to ramped up awareness and education surrounding hand hygiene.
Another reason hand sanitizers have become increasingly popular is because of the introduction of ethyl alcohol formulas.
Sanitizers that are ethyl alcohol-based evaporate quickly, which makes them ideal for use in the food service and health care industries.
The Popular Choice
The fast and easy-to-use nature of hand sanitizers have increased their popularity substantially in recent years, and not just when there is an outbreak or pandemic.
Hand sanitizers conveniently allow you to kill germs and protect your health even when soap and water aren''t readily available.
Manufacturers have recognized the need and demand for hand sanitizers and have begun to cater to those needs.
Sanitizers are have become available in more convenient formats such as key chains, pocket-sized bottles and portable stands to be placed in the busiest areas of high-traffic buildings.
"Many building managers and facility managers are making these dispensers more available due to the fact that germs can be spread by both direct transmission — handshaking, sneezing, coughing, etc. — and indirect transmission — touching doorknobs or elevator buttons," says Roger McFadden, senior scientist for Staples Advantage.
The more convenient and accessible the hand sanitizer is, the more likely it is that the product will be used.
Under certain circumstances, such as when handwashing is not done properly, using hand sanitizers can actually be more effective than cleansing with soap and water.
"In multiple studies reviewed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol solutions were found to be more effective than washing hands with plain soap," says Andy Clement, director of hand hygiene and tissue for Kimberly-Clark Professional.
According to Clement, the studies found that hand sanitizers can often be more effective than even some of their soapy counterparts.
"They reduced bacterial counts on the hands more than antimicrobial soaps or detergents in the majority of experiments. Hand sanitizers provide a broad spectrum, fast-acting antimicrobial effect and can be used on the go without the need for running water," Clement adds.
The CDC has also said, "The single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands."
While this seems like second nature, it does bear repeating.
The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water when hands are visibly dirty or contaminated, followed by the use of hand sanitizer.
While it could be easy to become dependant on hand sanitizer for all of our handwashing needs, it is not the correct choice in every situation, chiefly when hands are visibly soiled.
According to the CDC, "Alcohols are not appropriate for use when hands are visibly dirty or contaminated with proteinaceous materials, such as blood."
In other words, if your hands are full of dirt from working outside or contaminated with other materials that are obvious to the naked eye, it is recommended that proper handwashing with traditional soap and water be observed.
"However, when relatively small amounts of proteinaceous material are present, ethanol and isopropanol may reduce viable bacterial counts on hands more than plain soap or antimicrobial soap," the CDC amends.
Hand sanitizers, while popular, are not perfect for every situation.
It is undeniable that they are helpful in preventing the spread of germs and bacteria, but they are not an end-all solution to the infection cycle.
Used together with the proper handwashing techniques, hand sanitizers can help propel us to a cleaner, healthier and safer environment.