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Cold and Flu

Effectiveness of Anti-Bacterial Products

12/18/2008

Question:

As the winter approaches, I am wondering if anti-bacterial products are effective in preventing colds, flu and other viruses or is it necessary to use a disinfectant such as Lysol. What is the most effective way to prevent catching these things in public places such as grocery stores?

Answer:

Most colds, flu and other viruses are spread by hand-to-hand contact or via intermediary surface contact. This means that someone who wipes a runny nose or coughs or sneezes on their hands, then opens a door or picks up a telephone or touches a common surface, can leave secretions on the surface that another person can pick up on their hands inadvertently. If the other person then chews on a fingernail or eats a sandwich or even touches his or her nose or mouth, enough virus may be transferred to start an infection.

It turns out to be more difficult (although not impossible) to transmit viruses "air-borne," so the good news is that walking through a public place, such as a grocery store, is not much of a risk, as long as nobody sneezes on you and you wash your hands before touching your face or eating.

Hand washing with soap or detergent for at least 15 seconds does a good job of removing soil and transient microorganisms. Hand washing or surface washing with an antibacterial product would not be expected to do any better job of killing a virus than a regular soap or detergent would. Antiviral and antibacterial disinfectant products, such as Lysol, kill viruses on surfaces quickly, but as long as surfaces are thoroughly cleaned of mucus, oil, dirt and debris, viruses don`t survive long anyhow. Experimental studies using specifically antiviral hand rinses (not on the market) are unfortunately not very protective.

Don`t forget your flu shot! Every year, the composition of the vaccine changes to try to match the flu viruses that will circulate the coming winter. So, every fall, get a flu shot if you want to keep from getting the flu. Soon, an intranasal flu shot will be available for children, too.

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Response by:

Lisa A Haglund, MD Lisa A Haglund, MD
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati