With a growing worldwide flu pandemic, parents may be wondering if they should add hand sanitizers to their children’s backpacks. Researchers have shown that each hand may carry 10,000 to 10 million bacteria. Sneezing or coughing into your hands and then touching inanimate objects, such as doorknobs, can lead to the spread of germs from person to person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the H1N1 flu virus has continued to cause illness even during the usually flu-free summer months. The CDC has recommended four ways to help you and your family keep from getting sick with the flu at school and at home:
Practise good hand hygiene by washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not in your hands.
Stay home if you or your child is sick for at least 24 hours after there is no longer a fever or signs of a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medicine). Keeping sick students at home means that they keep their viruses to themselves rather than sharing them with others.
Get your family vaccinated for seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu.
The CDC has referred to handwashing as the “single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease.” A 20-second scrub with plenty of soap and water is the usual recommendation. However, sometimes soap and water are not readily available.
Hand sanitizers increasingly are being recommended for the times when handwashing facilities are not available. Alcohol can kill bacteria and viruses. Effective alcohol-based gels usually contain ethanol or isopropanol, or both. Experts recommend that hand gels contain at least 60 per cent alcohol.
Bottom line: In the kitchen, people have ready access to a sink to wash their hands. Using a hand sanitizer is not an effective substitute for handwashing during food preparation.
In other settings, a dime-sized dollop of hand sanitizer rubbed into the hands for 30 seconds can be used to clean your hands.
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and
nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition
and exercise sciences.