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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Don't Give Up on Plain Soap and Water: Harvard Health Letter

New products like antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers clamor for our attention, but plain old soap and water is still a good way to clean your hands, reports the January 2007 issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

In studies, washing hands with soap and water for 15 seconds (about the time it takes to sing one chorus of "Happy Birthday to You") reduces bacterial counts by about 90 percent. But even people who are conscientious about washing their hands often make the mistake of not drying them properly. Wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry ones.

Today, almost half of the hand soaps on the market have anantibacterial additive. The big question has been whether use of antibacterial soaps will worsen the problem of antibiotic resistance. Even if antibiotic resistance weren't an issue, results from studies suggest that antibacterial soaps available to consumers don't add much to hand hygiene. The findings are a useful reminder that antibacterial soaps aren't the all-purpose germ fighters that many people think they are.

The hot new products in hand hygiene are alcohol-based rubs, sold as hand sanitizers. The big advantage of these cleansers is that you don't need water or a towel, so you can use them anywhere. But alcohol doesn't kill everything. That's why it shouldn't be the only cleaner available in health care settings. To be effective, the rubs need to come into contact with all surfaces of your hands. For that reason, studies have shown that using small amounts is really no better than washing with plain soap and water.

The Harvard Health Letter suggests these steps to make sure you cleanyour hands thoroughly, whether you're using soap and water or a hand sanitizer:

1. Spread cleaner over hands.
2. Clean backs.
3. Clean fingertips.
4. Clean fingernails.
5. Clean thumbs.
6. Clean between fingers.

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