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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

CDC Now Says NON-Alcohol Hand Sanitizers Appropriate for Schools

On June 13, 2009, this blog published a letter that was directed to the Secretary of the US Health and Services Administration and senior staff at the US Department of Education in response to a long out-dated position that otherwise found the US Government (via CDC, HHS and DOE) seemingly endorsing alcohol-based sanitizers for use by school children; the age group that is most  susceptible to easily transmitted viruses, including Swine Flu/H1N1.
That letter pointed out the obvious dangers of alcohol-based products, the questionable logic of applying said products to the skin, and that any expert will attest to the fact that alcohol causes the skin to become dry/irritated, which necessarily increases the risk of exposure to bacteria and viruses.
The letter included a copy of an email exchange with then Interim Director of the US Centers For Disease Control Richard Besser, which took place one month earlier, informed Dr. Besser that schools and major universities throughout the country (e.g. 400+ public schools, Harvard University, University of Michigan, University of Arkansas, to name just a few) have disregarded CDC's out-dated position promoting alcohol gels, and these schools have systematically banned alcohol hand sanitizers. It was pointed out to Dr. Besser that those schools have determined alcohol hand sanitizer products are more dangerous than they are 'effective'.  In reply, Dr. Besser (now the ABC News Health Reporter) acknowledged a "communication challenge within CDC" with regard to CDC's failure to update their policy position on the topic of hand sanitizers, a policy paper that was written in 1996 and intended exclusively for professional health care workers within hospital venues.
The June 13 letter further pointed to widely-accepted scientific data that supported the use of certain non-alcohol formulas as an alternative hand hygiene solution, and referenced certain manufacturers that had already submitted independent lab evaluations to both the CDC and FDA to memorialize the scientific findings demonstrating their respective product's efficacy.
Well, we're happy to report that CDC, under the new leadership of Dr. Thomas Frieden, has finally modified its position, and CDC is now actually recognizing non-alcohol hand sanitizers for the age group that is most susceptible to viruses.
Proving that "bloggers" might actually be a positive influence! Some would argue that were it not for citizens taking matters into their own hands (pun intended), and leveraging the power of freedom of speech via the Internet, schools throughout the country would remain reliant on ill-informed, over-worked and politically-motivated bureaucrats that just don't seem to get it--unless they get hit over the head with it.
Via “Flu.Gov” the CDC just published a report entitled:
Technical Report for State and Local Public Health Officials and School Administrators on CDC Guidance for School (K-12) Responses to Influenza during the 2009-2010 School Year
Here's the excerpt that where the CDC now recognizes that school systems are systematically banning alcohol-based sanitizers, and where the CDC actually acknowledges non-alcohol sanitizers:
Influenza may spread via contaminated hands or inanimate objects that become contaminated with influenza viruses. CDC recommends that students and staff be encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective at killing flu germs, but may not be allowed in all schools. If soap and water are not available, and if alcohol-based products are not allowed in the school, other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful...
When clicking on the link to the full memo issued by CDC, the reader will notice that CDC incorporates a caveat, with a statement "..CDC believes there is less evidence with respect to the effectiveness of non-alcohol products when compared to the evidence available re: alcohol..."
The fact of the matter is that CDC and FDA are in possession of exhaustive independent evidence corroborating the effectiveness of certain non-alcohol (e.g. benzalkonium choloride-based) products, although this evidence may be less than 10 years old vs. "older" evidence with respect to alcohol.
That said, a cynic would argue that the FDA regularly "approves" prescription drugs for cancer patients that have been tested on prison inmates, so why the reticence to be more assertive when it comes to something as innocuous as non-alcohol hand sanitizers?
Perhaps the larger makers of alcohol-based products have perfected the art of lobbying? After all, we know that GOJO Industries visits this blog on a daily basis, hoping to find scraps that could help them undermine competitors that are promoting non-alcohol hand sanitizers.

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