When Roz Brenis takes her two young grandchildren out to eat, she squirts their palms with hand sanitizer.

“Anytime there’s a chance that they will take their fingers and put them to their mouth,” she said.

The South Euclid resident carries bottles of the clear liquid in her purse and coat pockets. She wipes down carts at the grocery store. She shudders at the thought of “other people’s germs.”

Brenis is not alone. Sales for hand sanitizers have skyrocketed amid fears of the H1N1 flu virus this year.

Americans bought $130 million of the gel in the past year at supermarkets, drug stores and retailers, excluding Wal-Mart, which does not report sales figures. That’s up nearly 29 percent compared with the same period last year, according to Information Resources, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Gojo — the Akron-based manufacturer of Purell — is running its Cuyahoga Falls and North Carolina plants nonstop in an attempt to keep up with demand. Purell owner Johnson & Johnson Consumer Co. also is having trouble keeping up and says consumers may only find limited supplies on the shelves.

The frenzy to buy sanitizers may not be a bad thing. While the H1N1 virus is spread primarily through the air, infectious-disease experts believe that using hand sanitizers helps stave off the flu.

In its tips for H1N1 flu prevention, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hand washing and cleaning as a top prevention strategy, adding that you should use alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available. Experts say a sanitizer with at least 60 percent to 90 percent alcohol is best because the alcohol kills germs or bacteria within seconds. There are no medical studies that show sanitizers without alcohol do the same.

“It’s very effective,” said David Taylor, infection preventionist at the Ohio State University Medical Center. “We’re trying to get rid of organisms that you just picked up, whether it’s from a keyboard or a door handle or whatever. We want to keep those out of your eyes, nose, mouth or wounds.”

Elaine Larson, associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing and a nurse who was involved in writing the national CDC guidelines for hand hygiene, said hand sanitizers are better than washing with soap and water.

That’s because people tend not to wash their hands for the recommended 20 to 30 seconds that’s needed to get them truly clean. And if they do wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, the skin can get chaffed and become more vulnerable to sores.

Even more, soap and water “just washes the germs down the drain,” Larson said, indicating that the germs are still alive and present down there.

Unlike sanitizers, anti-bacterial soap will not kill all germs on the hands, raising concerns that lingering bacteria can mutate and form resistance, thus decreasing the effectiveness of antibiotics.

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Article courtesy of: Cleveland.com

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