FDA: There's no proof hand sanitizers prevent flu infections

"Particularly during the winter months when everybody's got the sniffles and they're sneezing on each other," says SLU doctor.

Fred Bodimer
February 07, 2020 - 7:55 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — The FDA has warned the makers of Purell to stop making claims that its hand sanitizers will keep people safe from the flu.  It sent a letter to Purell this month saying it is not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies that prove that hand sanitizers prevent infection from viruses like the flu, ebola, MRSA or norovirus.

GOJO -- Purell's parent company -- says it is taking immediate action and is already updating its website.
 "I think that's definitely true," said Dr. Fred Buckhold, a SLU Care general internist at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.  "I think the flip side, though, is that anti-bacterial gel that you pump out is better than nothing.  The main ingredient that is active against bacteria and viruses in the gel is alcohol -- and that has less of an effect than soap -- which has a different type of chemical compound that really kind of breaks the cell walls of a lot of compounds more effectively -- whereas alcohol does not."

Dr. Buckhold says soap and water is still the best way to wash away germs.

"Particularly during the winter months when everybody's got the sniffles and they're sneezing on each other," Dr. Buckhold tells KMOX.  "Good handwashing for 30 seconds with your hands lathering up underwater is ideal."
 Although, he says you still see a lot of hand sanitizer dispensers in doctors' offices.

"In most hospitals in the St. Louis area -- and probably around the country -- you'll see alcohol gel dispensers outside every door -- and that's what providers, physicians, and nurses use," said Dr. Buckhold.  "Again, the idea behind that is that's better than nothing.  But certainly, when we have patients with certain types of gut infections and other issues, the gel is not effective at all so we are supposed to wash our hands thoroughly for 30 seconds or more."

The Bradley Corporation recently released its annual "Healthy Hand Washing Survey" which found 80-percent of us now are washing our hands longer after using a public restroom.  90-percent of women say they wash their hands after using a public bathroom.  83-percent of men say they do.  91-percent of baby boomers do it -- compared to 82 percent of Gen Xers.​

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