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Do antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers work any better than regular soap and water?

Dirty hands are a big culprit in transmitting diseases. Typically humans carry tens of thousands to millions of bacteria on their hands. We know hand washing is the single most important factor in preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

So you should wash before meals and preparing food, after using the bathroom and being with someone sick. But what's the best way to clean your hands?

Here's part one of the answer: Washing your hands with soap and water does NOT actually kill most bacteria. You'd be surprised to know just vigorously rubbing your hands together under running water for at least 10 seconds does a pretty good job. What soap does is help remove the bacteria but not kill them.

Now for part two of the answer: antibacterial soaps. The most common antibacterial added to soaps is a chemical called triclosan. The CDC has reported there is NO evidence triclosan is better than plain soap at getting rid of bacteria. These soaps also have no effect on the incidence of colds or flu which are caused by viruses. Scientists actually fear some bacteria may become resistant after prolonged use of antibacterial soaps. Finally - what about these new hand sanitizers?

Most of these sanitizers are alcohol based and as opposed to removing the bacteria, they killed bacteria better than soaps can remove them. They even kill some viruses. However, to be effective you have to use enough so your hands remain damp for 30 seconds.

So if you're near a sink, regular soap is the best choice. If not - use the hand sanitizer.

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Science Daily reports on the first known comprehensive analysis of whether antibacterial soaps work better than plain soaps, Allison Aiello of the U-M School of Public Health and her team found that washing hands with an antibacterial soap was no more effective in preventing infectious illness than plain soap.
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This same magazine reported on a similar study in 2005.
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Dr. Aiello's original research article is available at Aiello, A.E. Clinical Infectious Diseases, August 2007; online edition. Allison Aiello, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology, Center for Society Epidemiology and Population Health, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor.
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Stuart B. Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts expressed his concern about the use of antibacterial products in the home in a presentations entitled "Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern"
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The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta have published guidelines for had hygiene.
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