Hand Hygiene

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers Do Not Create Superbugs

Jim Arbogast


By Jim Arbogast, Ph.D.

Hygiene Sciences and Public Health Advancements Vice President, GOJO Industries

A recent study in Science Translational Medicine is causing concern amongst public health thought leaders because it is misleading, applying results inappropriately to (ethyl) alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The study tested efficacy of isopropanol (isopropyl) alcohol in a 23% concentration, whereby hand sanitizers typically use ethyl alcohol in a 70% concentration.

Because the study doesn’t base its findings on the type of products found in real-world settings, it’s misleading. Many thought leaders, including Dr. Didier Pittet, lead author of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hand hygiene guidelines, are speaking out publicly and cautioning that “Misinterpreting the relevance of results to real-life situations can lead to unnecessary panic, wasted resources, and possibly, bad policy decisions.”

Alcohol based hand sanitizers DO NOT create superbugs and are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as the safe and effective hand hygiene solution for decreasing the spread of illness-causing germs in hospitals and healthcare facilities. The ethyl alcohol in hand sanitizers kills germs within seconds by physically destroying the cell membrane and denaturing proteins within the bacteria. Furthermore, because ethyl alcohol evaporates from the hands within seconds - no residual alcohol is left on the skin - so there is no opportunity for germs to become resistant.

As a scientist, I agree with Dr. Pittet, that both scientists and those reporting the science need to be extremely thoughtful and diligent as to not confuse the public with misinformation that ultimately could lead to the decrease of public health. We all have an important role to play in designing credible science and reporting credible science.

For more information about the effective hand hygiene practices in healthcare settings, visit the CDC Clean Hands Count Campaign.

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