Like many people in workplaces far and wide, two weeks ago I was struck down with the flu.
The fever came and went and then I became the gross snuffly colleague, typing away with one hand, with fingers reaching to the tissue box the other. Then, in an effort to not be phlegm-infused pariah among work mates, room mates and friends, I bought a bottle of hand sanitiser.
About four years late to the party, I proceeded to gleefully wipe down my mouse, keyboard and desk surface, and attacked my hands with reckless abandon, admittedly drunk off my new-found cleanly smugness.
And then I realised that I was wrong. Very wrong.
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The problem with hand sanitiser is that they’re only anti-bacterial and not anti-viral – which is what causes the majority of colds, and flu, says the very qualified Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne who is the Senior Lecturer in Communicable Disease Epidemiology at University of Sydney.
“The vast majority of things that people have this time a year are viral,” he says.
“Actually, nine times out of ten if you contract an infection or a tummy bug, or something like that, it’s going to be a virus.”
Thus making your hand sanitiser redundant.
But the bacteria! I hear you say, what about the bacteria?
Well, it turns out we should be leaving our bodies alone to do their own thing.
Instead our over-reliance on anti-bacterial products could be killing off our “friendly bacteria,” the kind that helps us fight pathogenic, infection causing strains.
“It’s a balancing act,” he says.
“But if you expose yourself to an anti-bacterial wipe or solution you can actually open yourself up to more pathogenic bacteria.”
Furthermore, Dr Grant says that the scientific community “are not in favour of antibacterial sanitisers or soaps as they are likely to increase antimicrobial resistance,” with the FDA (the US Food and Drug Association) even publicly encouraging consumers to nix the antibacterial soaps (note: soap not sanitiser) altogether.
According to the FDA’s website, they say that there’s simply not enough evidence that the “ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time” or more effective than you know… correctly washing your hands.
Fine, so tell me what to do instead?
When it comes to protecting yourself, and your family, against illness from bacteria and viral pathogens, you don’t need anything fancy.
In fact, the good doctor says that when it comes down to germ fighting combinations, plain soap and water is best.
“It kills everything – bacteria, viruses and spores which are like bacteria in stasis,” he says.
Again good hygiene behaviour reigns supreme:
“The key is washing hands with soap and water before preparing food, after the bathroom [the lack of which is the subject of every germaphobe’s nightmares], and if you’ve been in contact with someone that’s unwell.
“That’s by far the easiest and safest method to protect yourself.
“Don’t worry too much about trying to clean everything,” he says.
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