Are hand sanitisers the best solution?

An expert says there is nothing to panic about because washing one’s hands properly with soap and water is still the most effective way to prevent infection


THE overwhelming demand for hand sanitisers in view of the new coronavirus outbreak has led to many pharmacies running out of stock.

However, the question is, do people really need to use this cleansing agent to protect themselves against the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)?

Allaying public fears over the shortage of hand sanitisers in the market, Dr Rosnida Mohd Noh, an expert in internal medicine and infectious diseases, said there is nothing to panic about because washing one’s hands properly with soap and water is still the most effective way to prevent infection.

“There are two ways to cleanse one’s hands to prevent infection by any virus, including the coronavirus. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water is one way, while the other way to keep your hands clean is by using a hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol,” said Dr Rosnida, who is attached to the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Teknologi Mara.

There is no reason to hit the panic button just because the stores are running out of sanitisers.

“All we have to do is to make sure we wash our hands regularly with soap and water, each time scrubbing our hands for at least 20 seconds to prevent any infection. This, in fact, is the most effective way to cleanse our hands. It is something that is easy and convenient to do on a daily basis,” she told Bernama.

At Least 60% Alcohol Content
Dr Rosnida also pointed out that in the case of hand sanitisers, it would be more effective to use one that contains at least 60% alcohol rather than those with lower or zero alcohol content.

When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue; throw tissue into closed bin immediately after use

According to the website of the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, hand sanitisers without 60% to 95% alcohol “may not work equally well for many types of germs; and merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright”.

It said although hand sanitisers containing more than 60% alcohol can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly, “people may not use a large enough volume of the sanitiser or may wipe it off before it has dried”.

On the use of wet wipes to cleanse one’s hands, Dr Rosnida said no authority, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), or health practitioner has recommended it as a means to prevent infections.

After the 2019-nCoV was detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, some 9,356 cases of infection and 213 deaths were reported as of Jan 31, according to Chinese media reports.

Public Health Emergency
Amid the rising spread of the 2019-nCoV, WHO declared the virus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on Jan 30.

The outbreak has increased public awareness on the importance of practising a high standard of personal hygiene. Hopefully, maintaining good hygiene will become a way of life for the general public as it is certainly not something that should only be observed “seasonally” when there is an outbreak of a disease. — Bernama