Expert recommends hand sanitizer to reduce illness

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We have become a society obsessed with hand sanitizers and wipes. But is it necessary?

"It's a really good question and a complicated one," answers Juan Dumois, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. "Someone who sneezes or coughs then touches an object and then you go touch and you get those viruses on your hand. But you don't get sick until you bring your hand to your mouth."

He says a little hand sanitizer can really disrupt the process.

"With hand sanitizer, you can kill those viruses on your hands in 10 or 15 seconds," Dumois explained.

Soap and water work too, but Dumois says you will need more time to scrub.

“To do it properly with soap and water takes about 30 secs," he explained.

Dumois says overuse of hand sanitizer does not make bacteria more resistant to antibiotics - like anti-bacterial soap can do.

"Hand sanitizer is usually alcohol and the alcohol just kills the bacteria," he said.

Alcohol is important because not all hand sanitizers have it.

"Some hand sanitizers are even advertised as having no alcohol ingredients, as if it’s a good thing," Dr. Dumois says, adding to make sure your sanitizers and wipes have at least 60 percent alcohol.

As for effectiveness, studies have shown school kids who use hand sanitizer at least four times a day report 25 percent fewer illness-related absentees.

"Those are little kids, they are probably not even doing it right half the time and they still saw an effect," he says.

Bottom line: You cannot overdo it when it comes to hand sanitizer, but you should not do it constantly because it can dry the skin on your hands. You should do it consciously before touching your face, especially during flu season.