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January 7, 2011

Study finds hand disinfectants do little to prevent spread of rhinovirus or influenza virus

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A team of researchers led by University of Virginia cold expert Ronald Turner, MD , found in a nationwide study that alcohol-based hand disinfectants fail to significantly reduce the frequency of infection from either the rhinovirus or the influenza virus.

Turner is presenting the results of the study at the 50 th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Boston.

In the study, volunteers who used an antiviral hand sanitizer every three hours had 42 rhinovirus infections per 100 subjects compared to 51 infections per 100 subjects in volunteers who used no special intervention. Similarly, volunteers who used the sanitizer had 12 influenza infections per 100 subjects compared to 15 infections per 100 subjects in the control group. Researchers also found that hand sanitizer did not significantly reduce the frequency of illnesses caused by these viruses.

“These results suggest that hand transmission may be less important for the spread of rhinovirus and influenza virus than previously believed,” says Turner. “The study also suggests that protection from infection with these viruses may require increased attention to aerosol transmission of viruses.”  Turner says the increased use of masks may be advisable.

The study was funded by the Dial Corporation.

Hand washing or hand disinfection is commonly recommended for prevention of viral respiratory disease. These recommendations are based largely on studies that have demonstrated the feasibility of transmission of infection by direct contact. But, while possible, hand contact may not be the most efficient means to spread the viruses.

Turner recommends that as the flu season approaches, the public and public health officials be vigilant about the spread of viruses and pay attention to a wide variety of measures to prevent transmission.

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