By Nurse Mark
It may be summertime as this is written, but fall and back-to-school and cold and flu season are just around the corner.
There is no question that hygiene, as in hand washing, goes a long way toward preventing the spread of colds and flu.
But what is best? It’s really not practical to wash hands as often as we should – like after every time we touch anything that anyone else could have possibly touched…
So, what about the ubiquitous "hand sanitizers" that contain ‘antibacterial" ingredients?
Is there anything else? Maybe something better, or at least a more effective strategy?
There is no doubt that good ‘ol soap and water is king when it comes to controlling the spread of disease-causing microorganisms – germs, viruses, fungal spores, you-name-it; they all are out to get us.
A good brisk soap and hot water scrub removes visible dirt, and either removes or attenuates or kills a very wide variety of baddies.
But there are some problems:
The "clean" doesn’t last – it is not ‘persistent." The instant you touch anything with those nice clean hands there is a strong likelihood that they are not so clean anymore. That’s why when you see depictions of surgeons "scrubbing for surgery" they engage in such gyrations to avoid touching anything unsterile with those nice clean hands: turning off the taps with an elbow, holding hands up to await a sterile towel to dry, and then carefully donning sterile gloves.
Surgeons know that they can get their hands squeaky clean with soap and water, but if they touch anything not known to be sterile then all bets are off and they have to start all over.
Soap and water is good, but it can be hard on the skin – very drying and often irritating – just as any surgeon, or nurse, or anyone who must scrub many times in a day. "Dishpan hands” is a very real thing…
What about "Hand Sanitizers"? After all, the ads for them make it sound like they are the answer to our prayers. Gels, sprays, liquids, foams, all claiming to be "the best."
Well, some may be better than others – but they all work the same way: they contain some sort of antibacterial/antimicrobial/virucidal ingredient.
Most commonly that ingredient is good ol’ alcohol. Cheap and effective, alcohol has been used as a disinfectant for as long as man has known about alcohol.
Alcohol disinfects by denaturing proteins. It may be effective, but it must be in contact with pathogens for longer periods of time (i.e.: up to 20 minutes or more) to be really any more effective than soap and hot water and scrubbing. Isopropyl alcohol is thought to be more effective than ethanol.
So, for a quick "spritz ‘n’ rub" skin cleanse, maybe not so effective- who is going to soak their hands in it for even 2 minutes, much less 20 minutes? But for a quickie hand cleanse when nothing else is available? Better than nothing!
Further, alcohol can be very drying and irritating to the skin, and if you have any little breaks in the skin (Paper cut anyone? Hangnail?) you’ll know all about it!
Oh, and by the way: alcohol is highly flammable… yep, people have set themselves alight with their hand sanitizers!
What about non-alcohol sanitizers?
A new kid on the block is actually an old name in the antimicrobial business: Benzalkonium chloride. I’s main claim to fame is that it is "persistent": that it’s antimicrobial effects continue for some time after it’s application because the chemical remains on and in the skin.
A synthetic chemical in the family of quaternary ammonium cations (also known as quats) Benzalkonium Chloride is a fairly effective disinfectant found in a number of "non-alcohol" hand sanitizer products. It has also long been used in medical settings as a disinfectant soak for such things as oral thermometers and instruments.
Benzalkonium chloride is effective against gram positive (such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumonia – “staph” and “strep”) and some gram negative bacteria (e-coli, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas) and some viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
It is effective, but also toxic – benzalkonium chloride is considered to be highly toxic to fish, very highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates, moderately toxic to birds, and slightly toxic to mammals. Keep it away from your aquarium and your pet birds!
There is also a growing body of evidence that long term human exposure to benzalkonium chloride and related chemicals is associated with significant health risks. These include asthma, chronic dermatitis and other immune system disorders. They are no longer recommended for use around infants or children, and their safety in the elderly is being called into question.
Also becoming popular as a non-alcohol sanitizer is another old friend, triclosan.
Triclosan was first registered with the EPA as a pesticide in 1969 and While it is effective as an antimicrobial, it is being found to have thyroid and hormone-disruptive effects.
Triclosan-containing hand cleansers also boast of their "persistence" – meaning that this chemical stays on the skin after being applied. Hmmm… this sounds like a good thing; it continues to protect for a period of time after use. But it also means that this toxic chemical – originally developed as a pesticide – is being allowed to remain in contact with your skin for an extended period of time. And your skin is the largest absorptive organ of your body… Oops…
Is there nothing really effective and safe?
We think that there is: Silver – “colloidal silver”
We have praised the effectiveness and safety of silver before: see our article “Is There A ‘Silver Bullet’ For Disease?” to learn more.
Colloidal silver is highly effective, and persistent if allowed to remain on surfaces. We have written often in praise of the benefits of colloidal silver. It is usually not recommended for generalized cleaning as there are more economical choices – though there are researchers who have verified it’s effectiveness as a general surface disinfectant.
But in a hand sanitizer colloidal silver is highly effective against a very wide range of bacteria, viruses, and even fungi, and silver-containing gel formulations soothe and heal damaged skin. Since the colloidal silver is rubbed into the skin and not washed off, it has very good "persistence."
We offer our version of a "Hand sanitizer" that we feel is both safe for frequent use, and is highly effective.
ASAP 365 – 24 ppm Silver Gel is effective, safe, and inexpensive – Dr. Myatt and I carry this with us whenever we travel and use it often – and we don’t use chemical-laden “hand sanitizers”! Colloidal silver is safe even for internal use – there are some people who use this as "toothpaste" and swear by it!
This gel rubs in quickly and easily, is non-greasy, and contains no perfumes or dangerous chemicals. It is a valuable addition to a natural first-aid kit for treating minor burns, wounds, fungal and bacterial infections – there are even those who swear by colloidal silver for the treatment of “Cold Sores” and “Fever Blisters”, and scientific research supports their belief in it’s effectiveness. One ecstatic customer even wrote to tell of it’s effectiveness as a deodorant!
So, the short course on clean hands?
- Soap and water as often as possible and practical – and don’t forget to do the "surgeon thing" using a paper tower to shut off the water and to open the door so that you aren’t touching possibly (likely) contaminated surfaces with those nice clean hands.
- Colloidal silver-containing hand sanitizer immediately after that soap and water hand scrub – you got them clean, now use the silver to make sure of it and to provide that valuable "persistence" that will help protect you when you inevitably touch something that dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people have touched and contaminated before you. (door handle? menu? escalator hand rail? you get the idea…)
- Avoid the toxic chemical laden "alcohol-free" hand sanitizers. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be useful when hand washing is not an option – just use it liberally to ‘clean’ and then follow up with a colloidal silver gel sanitizer for persistent effects.
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