The best way to prevent the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick is by washing your hands with plain water and soap advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Washing hands frequently with water and soap for at least 20 seconds is essential, particularly after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after sneezing, coughing, or blowing one’s nose.
If soap and water aren’t available, CDC recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
In the absence of a vaccine or effective antiviral drugs, hand hygiene is a mainstay of efforts to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19.
People who have the infection can show few, if any, symptoms, but yet be able to transmit the virus.
The virus spreads via droplets in the air or on commonly used surfaces, like door handles.
Washing the hands thoroughly with water and soap for at least 20 seconds is a highly effective way to defend against harmful viruses and bacteria.
Handwashing is not always practical, however, particularly for healthcare workers. This is due to a lack of access to running water, and a lack of sufficient time to wash the hands thoroughly.
Meanwhile, this group can be exposed to infection from a variety of sources throughout the course of every day. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers provide a rapid, simple alternative.
However, there has been a lack of hard evidence that they’re effective against SARS-CoV-2.
The WHO recommends 2 alcohol-based sanitizer formulations to prevent the spread of pathogens in general.
Now, scientists in Switzerland and Germany have tested the sanitizers’ effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2.
The first sanitizer comprises:
- ethanol 80% by volume (vol/vol)
- glycerin (also known as glycerol) — 1.45% vol/vol
- hydrogen peroxide — 0.125% vol/vol
The second sanitizer comprises:
- isopropanol (also known as 2-propanol or isopropyl alcohol) 75% vol/vol
- glycerin 1.45% vol/vol
- hydrogen peroxide 0.125% vol/vol
The researchers exposed SARS-CoV-2 virus particles to each formulation for 30 seconds. When they tested the subsequent capability of the virus to infect cells in lab cultures, they found that both formulations had inactivated the virus. The team was led by Professor Stephanie Pfänder, of the Department for Molecular and Medical Virology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in Germany.
The scientists also tested isopropanol and ethanol the active ingredients of each WHO-recommended formulation in isolation and in varying concentrations. Their results suggest that either isopropanol or ethanol at a concentration of at least 30 percent vol/vol is sufficient to inactivate SARS-CoV-2. For comparison, the CDC recommends that hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand sanitizers sold in pharmacies and shops usually have an alcohol concentration of around 60 percent Homemade hand sanitizers made without the necessary skills, equipment, and medical-grade ingredients, however, cannot contain alcohol concentrations high enough to inactivate SARS-CoV-2. For instance, pure rubbing alcohol, or surgical spirit in the U.K., and vodka have alcohol concentrations of about 70 percent and 40 percent respectively. But repeated use of rubbing alcohol on the hands can dehydrate the skin, causing inflammation and irritation. And vodka is unsuitable for making hand sanitizer, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, because it isn’t the right grade of alcohol.
In a study today in Emerging Infectious Diseases, German and Swiss researchers found that alcohol-based hand sanitizers recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) are effective in killing the novel coronavirus. And a study today in the Annals of Internal Medicine with important COVID-19 ramifications found that 70.2 percent of 6,512 electronic consultations (e-consults) made by 1,096 referring clinicians to 121 specialists were appropriate.
Commercially available sanitizers kill coronavirus
In the study of hand sanitizer, the researchers assessed the efficiency of different concentrations of 2 WHO-recommended as well as 2 modified hand sanitizer formulations on the COVID-19 virus. The WHO recommends 2 formulas: (1) 1.45% glycerol, 80% ethanol, and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide; and (2) 1.45% glycerol, 75% 2-propanol, and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide. However, these formulations didn’t meet the effectiveness necessities of European Norm, which measures how much live-bacteria remain on contaminated fingertips after hand sanitizer usage. In response, Schimel and colleagues, who were not included in today’s study, modified the formulations by adding more isopropanol or ethanol and using less glycerol after finding that glycerol reduced their effectiveness.
The modified versions used in this study consisted of (1) 0.725% glycerol, 80% ethanol, and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide; and (2) 0.725% glycerol, 75% 2-propanol, and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide. The German and Swiss researchers also tested dilutions of the alcohol’s ethanol and 2-propanol, the active ingredients of hand sanitizers on the market. They tested virus activity after 30 seconds of exposure to the hand sanitizer using a suspension of the 1-part virus, 1-part organic material, and eight parts disinfectant solution in different concentrations.
They found that all sanitizer dilutions and formulations of 40 percent more killed the coronavirus and reduced the virus to background levels within 30 seconds. The 2 WHO formulations had a virus reduction factor of >3.8, while the modified versions had a reduction factor of ≥5.9.
Both 2-propanol and ethanol reduced the virus to background levels in 30 seconds, with reduction factors of 4.8 – ≥5.9, and a concentration of ≥30% of either ingredient was effective in killing the COVID-19 virus.
The findings reveal that the novel coronavirus has an inactivation profile same to those of related coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), bovine coronavirus (BCoV), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
The authors noted that while 30 seconds is the recommended time to rub hand sanitizers into the skin and was the time used in this study, most people do not use them for that long. The research supports the use of WHO-recommended formulations in healthcare products during outbreaks, and our findings are crucial to reduce viral transmission and make the most of virus inactivation in the current COVID-19 outbreak,” they said.
The best way to protect yourself from sickness
During the flu and cold season, your best defense is the flu vaccination coupled with regular hand washing, as well as basic tactics for keeping your immune system ready to fight off illnesses: Exercise, get enough sleep, hydrate, and eat nutritious foods. Hand hygiene washing and sanitizing when necessary should be something you do multiple times per day. Everybody should wash their hands after using the restroom, handling any form of waste, before and after eating, after touching an animal or animal food or toys and after treating a wound. The CDC provides a helpful list of scenarios that need hand-washing.