For all of you who obsessively spray alcohol and water at the gym or clean your hands with sanitizers, Canadian researchers have found what medical professionals already knew — old-fashioned soap and water works better than anything to clean your hands.
Hospital-acquired infections — called nosocomial infections — are a huge problem worldwide. One of the most difficult bugs to combat is Clostridium difficile. Michael Libman, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal studied the most effective ways to eliminate C. difficile from the hands of health care workers.
Researchers tested five hand-washing protocols that emulated hospital conditions as closely as possible, according to a McGill press release. After the hands of 10 volunteers were contaminated with the bacterium, they washed with regular soap and warm or cold water, antiseptic soap and warm water, an alcohol-based solution and a disinfectant towel.
“The results were striking: the protocols that involved washing with water eliminated more than 98 percent of the bacteria, while washing with an alcohol-based solution eliminated almost none! The protocol involving a disinfectant towel eliminated around 95 percent of bacteria,” according to the release.
Part of the challenge in controlling the bacterium is eliminating the resistant spores it produces. Alcohol eliminates “living” bacteria but not spores, the researchers postulated. The chemical action of soap and mechanical action of hand washing eliminates both. Alcohol rubs remain effective in killing bacteria but not spores.
And, by the way, soap is all antibacterial. So unless you get your soap from a hospital supply closet, washing your hands is more mechanical than chemical. And don’t rush it!
Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer