Is hand sanitizer effective against viruses?

Bactieria and viruses can both causes various diseases. Apparently soap and water do not kill either one, but the mechanical action of washing one’s hands and body can scrub them from skin.

Oral and injected antibiotics are effective against bacteria but not viruses, or so I understand. So the question is - if hand sanitizers are antibacterial, are they of any use in killing viruses?

Probably not. Virus’s aren’t exactly alive, so you can’t really kill them. To “kill” a virus you really have to break it apart. I don’t think antibacterials break apart bacteria (and, as such, wouldn’t do anything to a virus), just kill them via some sort of bacteria only poison or something.

If someone knows more, could they please augment/completely correct what I just said. I would appreciate it.

Someone will be along shortly, but viruses are not exactly alive in many cases [they get into the cell and effect how the cell functions, frex herpes can live in nerve tissue and cause all sorts of hell] and in some cases a virus can encapsulate to survive dessication and heat to reactivate when conditions are optimum next …

As I understand it, alcohol does break down protein membranes of most viruses (flu virus included), sort of like an acid. So while it doesn’t exactly kill them, it makes your hands inhospitable to those types of viruses. It’s better to use alcohol-based sanitizers (i.e., Purell) than anti-microbials because bacteria and viruses can’t become resistant to alcohol. High concentrations of alcohol don’t work as well, because the chemical process requires a certain amount of water to be effective.

Center for Disease Control:

New York Times:

More advice from the CDC: “…cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not your bare hands.”

That’s what kids are being taught in school these days; my nieces and nephews do it all the time. Looks strange to old fogeys like myself, but I can certainly see the logic behind it.

I adopted the “cough or sneeze in the crook of my elbow/shoulder” thing as soon as I saw it - brilliant! Now, if we can just get out of the handshaking habit…

The bottle of Purell on my desk says, “Kills 99.99% of germs.” On the back it says, “Hand sanitizer which kills harmful bacteria or germs.” The former microbiology tech in me doesn’t care for the imprecise language - we never got requisitions from doctors to test for “germs” in patients. I guess we must assume that by “germs” they mean “viruses.” It makes me wonder if using “germs” instead of “virus” is some kind of legal ass-covering.

I don’t know enough to give good explanations, but viruses are adapted to living in aqueous environments. At least as far as alcohol based sanitizers, I’m sure that there is some serious disinfection. Proteins will often denature at the slightest provocation. Amphiphilic structures like miscelles and phospholipid double layers will completely fail in alcohol. In general, I think viruses are pretty damned fragile outside of their natural environment. Even without sanitizers, AIDS won’t be transmitted on a toilet seat.

Also, you have to remember that antibiotics may be antibacterial, but not all antibacterials are antibiotics.

Thats interesting, I had been wondering about the mechanism through which alcohol killed viruses.

I had always assumed that alcohol killed bacteria by “drying” them up via osmosis (I assume salting has the same effect). Are the bacteria actually killed then by denaturing of proteins as well?

I looked into this recently and found that some are and some aren’t. For the ones that are, I saw a few places that said 60% was the minimum alcohol concentration necessary to be effective.

More info from here:

…but it is possible that we have a somewhat false sense of security if we assume that alcohol-based cleansers will rid our hands of viruses.

It is true that some viruses are readily inactivated by alcohol; however, some are not. Viruses consist of nucleic acid (either RNA or DNA) surrounded by a capsid (protein shell). Some viruses have an additional external layer or wrapping known as an envelope. The envelope is created from a piece of phospholipid membrane that comes from the infected host cell during the “budding” process when viral particles leave the infected cell. Enveloped viruses are referred to as lipophilic viruses, because of their lipid envelope, while nonenveloped viruses are referred to as non-lipophilic viruses.

Generally, enveloped (lipophilic) viruses are susceptible to alcohol: Herpes simplex virus (HSV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), influenza virus (Flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), vaccinia virus, Hepatitis B and C viruses are considered susceptible to alcohols.

However, certain nonenveloped (nonlipophilic) viruses such as hepatitis A and enteroviruses, which are both responsible for viral gastrointestinal infections. Depending on the alcohol concentration of the hand-cleanser and time of exposure to the alcohol, hepatitis A and other nonlipophilic viruses may not be eliminated.