Washing hands vs. hand sanitizer in fighting the flu

(File Photo: Big Stock)

(ABC News)– One of the best ways to protect yourself against the flu is to clean your hands. So what works best, washing them or using hand sanitizer?

With the worst flu on record in at least a decade and 53 child deaths across the country, experts are zeroing in on simple hygiene saying it can help curb the spread of the virus.

“So frequent hand washing. So not just, ‘Kids, wash your hands before dinner,’ but wash your hands pretty frequently during the day from touching things,” said Dr Peter Shearer, Director of the Emergency Department at Mount Sinai.

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Hand washing and hand sanitizer are both ways to fight flu. Let’s show you how well certain kinds of each work. In a lab, we coated some volunteer’s hands with a liquid containing germs then pressed their hands to petri dishes, and put the dishes in an incubator for two days to watch what grows from germy hands. Then we tested one sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol, and one labeled “natural,” containing no alcohol.

The results were dramatic: the alcohol-based sanitizer showed far fewer germ colonies than the samples taken without cleaning. The formula without alcohol? Just look at how many germs are left behind compared to no sanitizer at all.

But doctors say if you can get to a sink, washing with soap is tried and true. But you have to do it correctly.

When we tested a five-second wash, just look at those germs it didn’t kill. You have to wash for a full 20 seconds to really get the bugs off.

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When it comes to hand sanitizer, alcohol-based products work so much better because the alcohol breaks up the bacteria’s proteins and kills them. But here too, time matters.

Experts tell us your hands should take a full 15 seconds or longer to dry.

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