BACKGROUND: Nothing works better at getting rid of disease-causing viruses than simply washing one's hands with old-fashioned soap and water. That advice comes from the largest and most comprehensive scientific study ever done to compare the effectiveness of hand hygiene products.
THE STUDY: Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied how effective 14 different hand hygiene agents performed in reducing bacteria and viruses from the hands after a 10-second exposure. Previous studies had participants clean their hands for 30 seconds, even though most people, including busy health care personnel, don't spend that much time washing up. Subjects first cleaned their hands, which were then exposed to a harmless bacterium and a virus comparable to disease-causing organisms. Then the subjects cleaned their hands with various agents, after which the scientists measured how much of the bacteria and virus remained. Among the viruses studied is one that causes the common cold, along with viruses that cause hepatitis A, acute gastroenteritis, and other illnesses.
THE RESULTS: The study showed that after a short exposure time of 10 seconds, nearly all the hand hygiene products reduced 90 percent of bacteria on the hands. But waterless alcohol-based hand wipes only removed about 50 percent of bacteria from the subjects' hands.
The American Society for Microbiology contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.