The five perceived dangers of hand gels outlined in report
Although hand sanitisers are currently playing a role in helping control the current novel coronavirus pandemic, their use should be limited in the near future as they could “present problems for human health and the environment in the long term”, according to a recent report on The Conversation website.
“It is clear that increased use of hand sanitisers can be hazardous for human health and the environment” warns the article’s author Dr. Manal Mohammed, a lecturer in Medical Microbiology at the University of Westminster.
The focus should be on soap and water washing – with sanitiser use being minimised when case numbers recede, advises Dr. Mohammed.
“As it is unclear how large these effects will be, we need more independent studies on the long-term impact. In the meantime, we should all remind ourselves that water and normal soap is our best and safest line of defence against harmful microbes.”
She states five reasons why gels are giving such a cause for concern in the long term.
- “Potential toxicity” – the alcoholic content (of between 60% and 95%) can cause problems such as poisoning, eczema or skin cancer – with children being particularly at risk.
- “Antimicrobial resistance” – this has been a concern for some time now as microbes (which can be lethal) become more resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
- “Altered microbiome” – the aforementioned sanitisers can “cause skin damage and cracks” allowing harmful bugs to enter our bodies says the report. “But more seriously, hand sanitisers also remove the helpful, normal bacterial flora present on the skin which prevents the invasion of other viruses – our skin microbiome.”
- “Rise in other infections” – hand sanitisers work against covid, but not against all pathogens, including Cryptosporidium, Clostridium difficle, and Norovirus, Dr Mohammed observes. “Hand washing is the only effective hygienic method against these bugs.”
- “Environmental effects” – ethanol can damage rivers and lakes, isopropanol “can deplete oxygen in water”.
Why care homes need soap and water washing
And finally, some food for thought. Dr Mohammed cites that a survey of a total of a hundred and sixty one long term care facilities in the United States has actually revealed a direct correlation between the use of gels for routine hand hygiene and increased levels of norovirus.
“Staff in the care facilities that suffered norovirus outbreaks were six times more likely to use hand sanitisers equally or more than soap and water for routine hand hygiene.”
Food for thought indeed…
Five ways the pandemic surge in hand sanitisers may not be great news in the long term »
Soap and water hand washing – wherever it’s needed!
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The range of portable handwash units for medical facilities »
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