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Thursday, August 28, 2008

What The CDC Really Says about Hand Sanitizers

You’re reviewing this because you’ve either already implemented a hand hygiene program within your facility, or you are researching various hand sanitizer products and dispensing systems that would be appropriate for use by your employees and visitors.

You already know that the vast majority of hand sanitizer products, whether consumer-based or institutional, are alcohol-based; over the past 10-15 years, these products have become ubiquitous in a wide variety of settings and venues.

But here’s the rub: alcohol-based products have become equally notorious for (i) causing dry/irritated skin, (ii) destroying protective skin cells, (iii) having limited persistency, and of course, these products are (iv) both flammable and (iv) potentially toxic, creating significant facility implementation risks that are NOT covered by traditional insurance policies.

These “features” are barely-noticed “footnotes” in the US Centers For Disease Control hand hygiene white paper; the “bible for hand hygiene.” This white paper, exclusively intended for hospital workers (HCW’s), was originally prepared in 1996, and slightly modified in 2002 (with no significant changes). However, as recently as October 2007, Kathleen Stewart, a senior spokesperson for the CDC, stated unabashedly that “..the report is widely misinterpreted, as CDC does not in fact “recommend” the use of alcohol-based gels (we only recommend washing with soap and water), and contains numerous statements cautioning against the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer rubs and gels..” Below extracts from the CDC publication illustrate Ms. Stewart’s observations.

 When evaluating hand hygiene products for potential use in health care facilities, administrators or product selection committees should consider the relative efficacy of antiseptic agents against various pathogens and the acceptability of hand hygiene products by personnel. Characteristics of a product that can affect acceptance and therefore usage include its smell, consistency, color and the effect of dryness on hands.

 Allergic contact dermatitis due to alcohol hand rubs is relatively uncommon. However, with increasing use of such products by health care personnel, it is likely that true allergic reactions to such products will occasionally be encountered.

 Alcohols are rapidly germicidal when applied to the skin, but they have no appreciable persistent (i.e., residual) activity.

 Depending on the alcohol concentration, the amount of time that hands are exposed to the alcohol, and viral variant, alcohol may not be effective against hepatitis A and other nonlipophilic viruses. The inactivation of nonenveloped viruses is influenced by temperature, disinfectant-virus volume ratio, and protein load
 Alcohols are not appropriate for use when hands are visibly dirty or contaminated with proteinaceous materials.

 Further studies are warranted to determine the relative efficacy of alcohol-based rinses and gels in reducing transmission of health-care--associated pathogens.

 Even well-tolerated alcohol hand rubs containing emollients may cause a transient stinging sensation at the site of any broken skin (e.g., cuts and abrasions). Alcohol-based hand-rub preparations with strong fragrances may be poorly tolerated by HCWs with respiratory allergies.

 Alcohols are flammable. Flash points of alcohol-based hand rubs range from 21ºC to 24ºC, depending on the type and concentration of alcohol present (169) One recent U.S. report described a flash fire that occurred as a result of an unusual series of events, which included an HCW applying an alcohol gel to her hands, immediately removing a polyester isolation gown, and then touching a metal door before the alcohol had evaporated

 In certain surveys, approximately 25% of nurses report symptoms or signs of dermatitis involving their hands, and as many as 85% give a history of having skin problems (249).

 Affected persons often complain of a feeling of dryness or burning; skin that feels "rough;" and erythema, scaling, or fissures. Detergents damage the skin by causing denaturation of stratum corneum proteins, changes in intercellular lipids (either depletion or reorganization of lipid moieties), decreased corneocyte cohesion, and decreased stratum corneum water-binding capacity (250,251). Damage to the skin also changes skin flora, resulting in more frequent colonization by staphylococci and gram-negative bacilli (17,90). Although alcohols are among the safest antiseptics available, they can cause dryness and irritation of the skin (1,252)

 Skin that is damaged by repeated exposure to detergents may be more susceptible to irritation by alcohol-based preparations (253)

 Allergic reactions to products applied to the skin (i.e., contact allergies) may present as delayed type reactions (i.e., allergic contact dermatitis) or less commonly as immediate reactions (i.e., contact urticaria). The most common causes of contact allergies are fragrances and preservatives; emulsifiers are less common causes (256--259). Liquid soaps, hand lotions or creams, and "udder ointments" may contain ingredients that cause contact allergies among HCWs (257,258).

 Allergic reactions to alcohol-based products may represent true allergy to alcohol, allergy to an impurity or aldehyde metabolite, or allergy to another constituent of the product (167). Allergic contact dermatitis or immediate contact urticarial reactions may be caused by ethanol or isopropanol (167).

Which is exactly why alcohol-based products are being systematically banned from corporate, government, correctional, and educational venues, and why a continuously growing number of infection control experts are embracing the use of non-alcohol, rinse free products, and specifically those that incorporate the organic compound Benzalkonium Chloride (BAC)

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