As flu season approaches, is washing with soap better than hand sanitizers?


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As flu season hits our area, there are precautions people can take to help lessen the chances of contracting the flu virus — and it can be as simple as washing your hands.

But, what’s the best thing to use to wash them?

There’s a new study that looks at soap versus hand sanitizers.

As little kids, people are taught to wash their hands to get rid of germs.

But, with the proliferation of products like antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers some folks use them instead — believing that’s the best hygiene available to prevent germs.

In just about any office environment, hand sanitizers can be seen everywhere. They are alcohol-based and while they can help prevent the spread of germs, the study published by the American Society for Microbiology finds that washing hands with soap and water is more effective than using hand sanitizers.

“When you’re in a public situation, wash your hands,” says Susan Catchings, a family nurse practitioner at Avance Care in Cary. “Good hand washing is important.”

And, when it comes to the flu, hand washing becomes even more critical.

The CDC says the influenza virus can live on some surfaces for up to 24 hours, meaning if a contaminated surface is touched and then a person touches their mouth, nose or eyes within that period — they are at risk for infection.

“Don’t touch your face — your nose, your eyes — that’s how you spread illness,” says Catchings.

The process is called self-inoculation and researchers say the average person touches their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour.

Researchers found, if the mucus from the mouth and nose contains the flu virus, it’s difficult for the alcohol in hand sanitizers to penetrate the virus and kill it.

The study found hand-washing completely removed the flu virus after 30 seconds, whether the mucus was wet or dry.

And while hand washing works — when it comes to the flu, remember that the virus is also spread by the air — so limit contact with those who appear to be sick.

When it comes to hand washing The Center for Disease Control recommends scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Also, it is important to clean the back of hands, between fingers, and under fingernails. 

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