Alcohol-based hand sanitizers: can they backfire?

A new study suggests that alcohol-based hand sanitizers could backfire.

August 1, 2018, 10:32 PM

A significant new study may make you think twice about using your hand sanitizer to clean up and disinfect. Soap and water may be a better option.

The study, from Australia, demonstrated that bacteria can slowly evolve to better survive in alcohol.

Alcohol-based disinfectants, especially “hand rubs” with a high alcohol content, have become standard practice in curbing hospital-based bacteria infections.

But the Australian study showed that the bacterial resistance to alcohol may be related to an increase in bacterial infections widely-reported in European hospitals.

The study evaluated two Australian hospitals over the course of 19 years.

Over that time, some bacteria grew to tolerate the standardized hospital procedures used around the world. The alcohol-resistant bacteria could mean that it will be difficult to treat in terms of infection.

To put it simply, sanitizers have been linked to the intestinal infections that statistics show are on the rise in hospitals worldwide.

Currently, hand washing and hand sanitizers are the tried and true way to prevent spread of infections, but in the future, more subsequent studies might could conclusively demonstrate the need to hand sanitizer for infection control in hospitals.

Dr. Cliff McDonald, a medical epidemiologist and Associate Director for Science in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told ABC News that these findings are compelling. He confirmed that the study was well-conducted and documented.

Still, until this research is confirmed by other scientists in subsequent studies, it’s not yet time to toss out the hand sanitizer that many keep on their desks or kitchen counters. In hospitals, McDonald believes, the disinfectants still do save lives.

Dr. Aditi Vyas is a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit, specializing in radiology and occupational and environmental medicine.