Alcohol gels – more harm than good?

Alcohol hand sanitisers are currently recommended for use by many healthcare organisations across the world, including the World Health Organization (WHO). However, a group of authors* claims a multi-centre “real time” study of Colony Forming Unit (CFU) counts on human skin show that this advice may actually be detrimental. Dr Andrew Kemp JP PhD, principal scientific officer at Q Technologies group, University of Lincoln, shares his findings.

Until recently the effects of alcohol gels on skin bacterial counts over extended time periods have been overlooked. After an extensive literature search revealed no published studies on the effects of alcohol gel on skin for any periods of time over 10 minutes, an initial pilot study showed an unexpected result leading to a study on a much larger sample group. The results of this study show that alcohol gel reduces bacterial counts initially, however, after one hour it causes a significant increase in skin bacterial counts when compared to washing with soap and water only.

The potential increases in institutional bioburden caused by this effect should be understood by clinical staff, who should then review their own practice to determine if the use of alcohol gels is safe.

The authors propose that current recommendations are reviewed and possibly changed to avoid potential harm to both patients and staff. Any changes to current recommendations may also have significant financial implications to healthcare providers.

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