Hand sanitizers and bacteria
Q. Is the growing use of hand sanitizers changing the normal ecology of our hands, making it easier for the MRSA bacteria to grow?
A. Probably not. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, normally lives in the nose and throat, the armpits and the perineum (the area near the anus), said Dr. J. Owen Hendley, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. It’s not commonly carried on the hands.
Using a hand sanitizer, or washing with soap and water, kills the “transient flora,’’ or bacteria, including MRSA, that is temporarily on the skin. These cleaning methods do not get rid of permanent, or “resident,’’ bacteria, but this is not a problem because these bacteria do not cause disease, he said. In fact, these good bacteria help keep disease-causing germs away.
Dr. Stuart Levy, a professor of microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine and president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, agrees.
“There’s no reason to worry,’’ he said. Hand sanitizers have revolutionized how doctors and nurses treat patients in hospitals. “These alcohol dispensers are in front of every door, all over. It’s fabulous,’’ he said. “They’re gentle to the hands because they contain a lubricant, they work immediately, they dry, and you kill the bacteria on your hands.’’
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