Hand sanitizers are no more protection than ordinary soap against colds and flu, although they are very effective against gastrointestinal illness, according to a new study.
Researchers found that test subjects who used the sanitizers had a 42 percent rate of coming down with a cold, versus 51 percent of the volunteers who didn't use them.
As for the flu, some 12 percent of volunteers who used a sanitizer got the flu, as compared with 15 percent who didn't use a hand sanitizer.
"We all thought if you used hand disinfectants, it would have an impact," the New York Daily News quoted Dr. Ronald Turner, the study's research leader as telling The Daily Progress.
However, the University of Virginia research, funded by Dial Corp., which makes a hand sanitizer, did show that the sanitizers worked against gastrointestinal illness.
Additional research is necessary to learn how cold and flu bugs are passed from one person to the next, said Turner.
If it turns out that the bugs spread sickness through the air, rather than by actual physical contact, the similar infection rates between users and nonusers of sanitizers would be explicable.
For the research, volunteers were given bottles of a disinfectant made with organic acids that can kill viruses up to four hours after being applied. They were told to use it every three hours.
To the surprise of the researchers, the test subjects who followed the directions had similar rates of cold and flu as those who did not.
The study has been reported on Consumerist.com.