The Efficacy of Hand Sanitizers

Given their prevalence in offices, hospitals and pharmacies (how naïve?), I would have thought the effectiveness of hand sanitizers would have been a lot greater than it is:

In 2005, Boston-based doctors published the very first clinical trial of alcohol-based hand sanitizers in homes and enrolled about 300 families with young children in day care. For five months, half the families got free hand sanitizer and a “vigorous hand-hygiene” curriculum. But the spread of respiratory infections in homes didn’t budge. […] A Columbia University study also found no reduction in common infections among inner-city families given free antibacterial hand soap, detergent, and cleaning supplies. The same year, University of Michigan epidemiologist Allison Aiello summarized data on hand hygiene for the FDA and pointed out that three out of four studies showed that alcohol-based hand sanitizers didn’t prevent respiratory infections. Then, in 2008, the Boston group repeated the study—this time in elementary schools. […] Again, the rate of respiratory infections remained unchanged, though the rate of gastrointestinal infections, which are less common than respiratory infections, did fall slightly. Finally, last October, a report ordered by the Public Health Agency of Canada concluded that there is no good evidence that vigorous hand hygiene practices prevent flu transmission.

The final advice:

Follow the data and get a flu shot, wash your hands sensibly after using the bathroom and around meals, and stop wasting money on hand sanitizers.

via Link Banana, saying “they could (should) have been most explicit on the differences between hand washing […] and hand sanitizers”. Seconded–I’m no longer sure where hand washing fits in this picture.

Note: The Wikipedia article for hand sanitizers paints them in a slightly more positive light, but with many caveats (e.g. alcohol content and duration of exposure to the product is important, etc.).