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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/13/2010

Study: Hand sanitizer doesn't stop colds

By Washington Post editors

Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer doesn’t significantly decrease how often someone is infected with a cold or flu, a University of Virginia study has found, according to the Daily Progress.

The results came as a surprise to research team leader Ronald Turner, whose study was sponsored by the Dial Corp. “We all thought if you used hand disinfectants, it would have an impact,” Turner said.

The results were expected to be announced Sunday during the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Boston.

To read more about the University of Virginia's hand sanitizer study, go to the Daily Progress.

By Washington Post editors  | September 13, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Crime and Public Safety, Virginia  
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Time to sell your Purel stock.

Posted by: krickey7 | September 13, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Hand sanitizer is modern day magic. People use it to ward off fear, and usually in a compulsive manner. Its actual medical usefulness has never been a consideration.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | September 13, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The original report is really poor journalism and the Post is being irresponsible by noting it without doing its own homework.

If you do the math, assuming the original story's numbers are correct, the study found that sanitizer users had rates of infection that were nearly 18 percent lower for the common cold and 20 percent lower for the flu. It's been a quite a few years since I studied statistics, but I don't find those numbers particularly insignificant.

Given that the cold may account for something like $25 billion a year in lost productivity, according to one 2002 study, and as many as 100 million doctor visits, I'm not sure how anyone can argue that reductions approaching 20 percent in either of those numbers can be construed as meaningless in an era of recession and rising health-care costs.

Having been around, and even practiced, some sloppy journalism in my time in the business (now thankfully ended) I recognize poor reporting when I see it, and this is it. I suspect that the researcher, if contacted by a conscientious reporter, would probably say that he was trying to suggest that while researchers were surprised that the gels were less effective than they had initially hypothesized, the study suggests they still have a not insignificant ability to stop the spread of some colds and flu infections.

My concern is that it may prompt some to abandon efforts to avoid infection, creating illnesses that didn't need to happen.

Is it possible that hand sanitizer isn't the miracle its promoters would have you believe? Of course. The steak is never is good as the sizzle. But even if all it does is help people avoid one in every five colds they might otherwise get, I think sloppy journalism stands to do us all a disservice by dissuading people from taking a simple step that can, it appears, help stop at least some disease from spreading.

Posted by: b5jv-5tsh | September 13, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

b5jv-5tsh, I agree with everything you said... except for the part about it being a disservice. Anyone not smart enough to recognize the 20% decrease in infections as significant deserves what they get by ignoring it. I can sense the gene pool improving already.

Posted by: HammerRep | September 13, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

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