Can Hand Sanitizers Harm Health Care Workers?

It’s the time of year for sneezing and sniffles. For most people daily use of hand sanitizers is relatively minimal, and usually occurs after trips to the restroom or after sneezing. Conversely, Healthcare workers are required to disinfect their hands after every single patient interaction, sometimes multiple times while assisting the same patient and with good reason. It’s a well-known fact that proper hand hygiene is the number one way to limit the spread of disease and keep cross contamination in between patients to a minimum. But can the fact that most healthcare workers use hand sanitizers an average of 20 times a shift have an adverse effect on their health?

The concerns primarily lie with the inhalation and dermal exposure to the alcohol used in the hand sanitizers. There is a lot of conclusive evidence about chronic alcohol ingestion and it’s correlation with increased risks for cardiovascular, pancreatic, and liver diseases as well as some psychological disorders. With healthcare workers using hand sanitizers so frequently the fear is that the over exposure through inhalation or dermal absorption could lead to passive alcoholization and the same negative effects as over ingesting alcohol.

Using UV-VIS spectrophotometers scientists were able to effectively study the concentration of alcohols (ethanol and combined alcohols) released into the air during hand rubs. This enabled them to measure whether these numerous exposures could be within a harmful range. The result? Based on the study a nurse disinfecting her hands 30 times they only ingested about one tenth the alcohol content of a glass of wine which is far below what is considered unsafe exposure. Even with the positive outcome it is a vanguard study and there is still a lot more research required. Researchers still suggest that pregnant healthcare workers take extra care to avoid even low levels of exposure to alcohol as it may have harmful effects on the fetus.

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