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Author: Marie Hartley, Staff Writer, 2010.
A hand rub is a gel or liquid containing antimicrobial agents that decrease the number of microorganisms present on hands. The antimicrobial agents in most hand rubs are alcohols (ethanol, isopropanol, and n-propanol), available in varying concentrations. Because hand rub does not remove organic material, it cannot be used if hands are visibly soiled. Hand rub is sometimes called a sanitiser.
Ethanol, at a concentration of 60% or greater, is effective against:
Alcohol-based hand rubs have limited effectiveness against bacterial spores (e.g. Clostridium difficile), protozoan oocysts, and certain viruses.
Alcohol-free superoxidised solutions can also be used for hand cleansing.
Social handwashing with non-antiseptic household soap removes bacteria and viruses by physical/mechanical means. Household soap acts as a detergent to help remove loosely adherent bacteria and viruses; microorganisms are not actually killed by these products. Downsides to washing hands using this method include:
Healthcare settings traditionally use chemical hand-wash products, such as chlorhexidine in addition to alcohol. These products have antimicrobial/antiseptic properties and are effective against many bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Most studies comparing the effectiveness of hand rub against regular hand-washing have been performed in healthcare settings. These data show that hand rub is at least as effective as traditional hand-washing with chemical hand-wash products in reducing bacterial counts on skin and in reducing hospital-acquired infections. Furthermore, hand rubs are less irritating to the skin than traditional chemical hand-wash products.
It is uncommon to experience side effects from using hand rub. Evidence shows that hand rub is less damaging to the skin than soap and water. However potential skin reactions from hand rubs include:
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