The Best Way to Kill Germs
By Dr. Edward Pullen for Live Right Live Well
With cold and flu season in full swing, you may be wondering if
washing with antibacterial soaps and using hand sanitizers are better
ways to keep germs at bay than washing with regular soap. I see sick
patients every day, so I’m attentive to the latest research and have my
own ways of preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. Here’s my
Regular vs. Antibacterial Soap
First let’s look at the
question of regular versus antibacterial soap. Most antibacterial soaps
contain triclosan, which kills not only bacteria, but fungi as well.
However, most of the illnesses we try to prevent -- the common cold,
influenza, etc. -- are caused by viruses. There is little evidence to
show that antibacterial soaps are more helpful in killing germs than
plain soap. In fact, a 2003 study sponsored by the National Institutes
of Health showed no difference in bacterial counts when washing with
triclosan-containing antibacterial soap was compared to washing with
Gels are becoming increasingly
popular. They’re used when washing is inconvenient or unavailable, and
sometimes they’re used to replace washing altogether. Unlike the use of
antibacterial soaps, there’s considerable evidence that using
alcohol-containing gels to sanitize hands kills both bacteria and
viruses more effectively than washing.
So to stay healthy this cold and flu season, keep the following in mind:
- Soap and water are best for
removing dirt, especially germ-harboring dirt. That's why you should
always wash your hands with soap and water after activities that get
your hands dirty, like using the toilet.
- Regular soap is fine to use for washing, as there is little or no evidence that antibacterial soap kills germs more effectively.
gels are great for killing viruses and bacteria, and they’re especially
useful for killing germs when your hands aren't particularly dirty. I
wash my hands prior to seeing each of my patients, and I use hand
sanitizer after seeing patients with any type of bacterial or viral
Dr. Edward Pullen blogs frequently for Live Right Live Well. He is
a board-certified family physician practicing in Puyallup, Wash. In addition to practicing
full-service family medicine since 1983, he writes the medical blog DrPullen.com.
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