Just how effective are those disinfecting wipes and hand
sanitizers for preventing disease? Two newly reported studies that asked the
question have come to different conclusions.
In a study that focused solely on wipes, researchers concluded that instead
of preventing hospital-acquired infections like methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA ) the wipes could actually be spreading bacteria
when used improperly by hospital staffers.
But another study, reported Monday in the journal Pediatrics,
suggests that frequent use of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers in the
classroom can reduce school absenteeism caused by bacterial and viral
Disinfecting wipes and alcohol-based hand gels are now widely used in
hospitals, schools, and other public settings to kill the pathogens that cause
Americans now spend an estimated $1 billion a year on these and other
antibacterial products, but their direct impact on the spread of infectious
disease is not well understood.
(Do you use antibacterial
wipes? Do you think they work? Why or why not? Talk with others on WebMD's
Parenting: Preschoolers and Grade Schoolers board.)
Wipes Can Spread Bacteria
About 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur each year in the United States,
according to the CDC, and the vast majority of these infections occur in
hospitals and other health-care settings.
Disinfectant wipes are among the products used in such settings in an effort
to prevent the spread of MRSA and other infectious pathogens.
But in a study presented today in Boston at the annual meeting of the
American Society for Microbiology, researchers from Cardiff University's Welsh
School of Pharmacy reported that when used improperly the wipes may spread
bacteria rather than remove or kill them.
Researchers Jean-Yves Maillard, PhD, Gareth Williams, PhD, and colleagues
observed hospital staffers as they used the wipes to disinfect hospital
"We saw that there was a tendency to use one wipe on consecutive
surfaces, such as bed rails, computer monitors, and keyboards," Williams
The researchers used the wipes in this way in laboratory tests designed to
measure their ability to remove and kill the bacteria that cause staph
infections, including MRSA.
While most of the wipes tested did remove large numbers of bacteria from
contaminated surfaces, they also commonly transferred live bacteria to
uncontaminated surfaces when used in more than one place. Even some wipes that
claimed to kill bacteria were found to transfer live bacteria from one surface
to another, the researchers report.
"Many of the wipes were effective, but the message is that they have to
be used properly," Williams says.
That means using one swipe per wipe on a single surface, Maillard tells
Targeting Germs in the Classroom
Colds, flu ,
and stomach bugs result in millions of lost school days each year.
Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of
infectious illness, but new research suggests that commercially available hand
sanitizers and disinfecting wipes can also help reduce the spread of infectious
disease in schools.
Researchers from Children's Hospital Boston conducted a randomized,
controlled trial at an Ohio elementary school in which the wipes and sanitizers
were used in some classrooms, but not in others.
For eight weeks, teachers in the intervention classrooms used the wipes to
disinfect each student's desk once a day after lunch, and the students were
told to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer several times a day. The classes
without hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes followed usual cleaning
procedures and hand hygiene practices.
There was no difference in the absentee rate due to respiratory illness
between the intervention and non-interention classes over the course of the
study, but the extra sanitation did seem to reduce the incidence of GI
Twenty-four percent of students in the classes that did not use the wipes
and hand sanitizers were absent from school during the study because of
gastrointestinal illness, compared to 16% of students in the intervention
The study was funded by The Clorox Company, which manufactures the
disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer used by the researchers.
"Hand washing is really the best way to prevent the spread of infection,
but this study suggests that hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes can also
play a role," researcher Thomas J. Sandora, MD, MPH, tells WebMD. "This
is a relatively low cost and simple way for schools to help keep kids
Industry Responds to Studies
Soap and Detergent Association spokesman Brian Sansoni agrees.
"This research reinforces the commonsense message that proper and
regular use of cleaning and hygiene products enhances public health,"
Sansoni tells WebMD. "Soap and water are the gold standard, but when they
aren't available hand sanitizers are effective for killing germs."
Sansoni also agreed that proper use of disinfecting wipes in the hospital
setting is key to their effectiveness.
"(The Welsh) study shouldn't be perceived as saying that these products
aren't effective," he says. "But it is absolutely critical that they be
By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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