The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website makes numerous recommendations on how to prevent one from contracting Covid-19. These suggestions include wearing masks and gloves, cleaning your home, social distancing, and using hand sanitizer. When the CDC describes how to select a sanitizer, they say “using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.”

However, according to a recent study from Brigham Young University, hand sanitizer without alcohol is just as effective against Covid-19 as hand sanitizer containing alcohol. 

This study was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection on November 28, 2020. “People were already using it before 2020,” says Bradford Berges, co-author of the study, and professor at Brigham Young University, referring to alcohol-free hand sanitizer. “It just seems like during this pandemic, the non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been thrown by the wayside because the government was saying, ‘we don’t know that these work,’ due to the novelty of the virus and the unique lab conditions required to run tests on it.”

However, as the researchers acknowledge in their study, other effective disinfecting products “could be used as effective alternatives to alcohol-based products, which may help reduce supply shortages and contribute to the containment of Covid-19.”

This study, led by Benjamin Ogilvie, treated samples of the coronavirus with three compounds commonly found in commercial disinfectants and less than one per cent solution of benzalkonium chloride.These compounds are part of a class of compounds called quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, which are commonly used as disinfectants. 

The researchers put samples of the virus in test tubes and added a different compound to each tube. Viruses require living cells as hosts to infect an organism. When the researchers placed the test tube mixture on living cells, three out of the four disinfectants, including the benzalkonium chloride solution, deactivated the coronavirus within 15 seconds. This occurred even when the researchers diluted the disinfectant with water or added organic soil loads to mimic a real-life situation. 

“A couple of others have looked at using these compounds against Covid,” Berges explains, “but we’re the first to actually look at it in a practical timeframe, using four different options, with the realistic circumstance of having dirt on your hands before you use it.”

Ogilvie also notes some advantages benzalkonium chloride has over alcohol-based sanitizers. “Benzalkonium chloride can be used in much lower concentrations and does not cause the familiar ‘burn’ feeling you might know from using alcohol hand sanitizer. It can make life easier for people who have to sanitize hands a lot, like healthcare workers, and maybe even increase compliance with sanitizing guidelines,” says Ogilvie.

With hand sanitizer being an important means of preventing the spread of Covid-19, the researchers note in their study that “the FDA should consider giving expedited approval to manufacturers of benzalkonium chloride hand sanitizers, thereby making both types of hand sanitizers more available.”

Berges notes that their study “may actually provide a change in government directions about hand sanitizer.”

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