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Disinfection - Hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants

Keeping a disease from spreading is an immense challenge in today’s globalized society. People travel more than ever, interacting with individuals from the entire globe in record-time.

The COVID-19 virus has caused severe limitations to freedom of movement and travel restrictions are in place almost everywhere. Still, even in national and community context, infection control at the individual level is highly dependent on two things: keeping hands and surfaces disinfected.


What are disinfection materials?

Disinfectants are all materials intended to destroy microorganisms. They are most often used on surfaces, such as sinks, floors, counters, toilets and numerous other places where individuals spend time or interact. As soon as a surface is touched, the potential for contamination or infection increases considerably, and so disinfecting hands is also an important infection control measure.

Disinfection materials come in a range of different varieties, and we’ll take a closer look at the two most important types in the context of limiting spread of infectious diseases further down in this article. Generally speaking, though, disinfection materials must balance between inhibiting microorganisms and causing injury to surfaces or humans. That is, a disinfectant needs to be effective against the microorganism it’s intended for, while at the same time being as safe as possible for those handling it.

What types of surface disinfectants are there?

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between disinfecting and sanitizing. Disinfectants are materials that work on non-living surfaces, and so are used for cleaning. When using disinfection materials as an infection control measure, they need to either eliminate or inhibit the infectious material intended. In other words: a disinfectant is a material that will kill a bacteria or virus, or remove its ability to spread.

Surface disinfectants come in all kinds of different types. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Alcohols
  • Air disinfectants
  • Oxidizing agents (such as hydrogen peroxide used in hospitals)

The purpose of a surface disinfectant is to remove any infectious materials from surfaces that other individuals may touch. This includes light switches, door handles, beds, bedside tables, and other surfaces that individuals that are either confirmed or suspected of having a disease may have touched. For medical purposes, hospital-grade surface disinfectants are in a category of their own, and have been particularly developed to prevent infections from spreading in high-risk areas that patients frequent.

What types of hand sanitizers are there?

Hand sanitizers are also referred to as hand sanitiser, hand antiseptic, hand disinfectant and handrub. Differing from disinfectants, sanitizers are developed to clean organic tissue such as our hands, and remove microorganisms we may have come into contact with. It’s important to note that while hand sanitizer is an effective supplement to personal hygiene, cleaning your hands in warm water with soap for at least 20 seconds is the best option.

Hand sanitizers come in either liquid or gel types and can be both alcohol- and non-alcohol-based. Alcohol has been used as a sanitizer for hundreds of years, and it’s a recommended alternative to cleaning your hands by the WHO, when you don’t have access to soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are flammable, and so should be handled with care. These may also irritate the skin, and so it’s important to limit their use when possible.

Who needs to use hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants?

Hand sanitizers are a good infection control measure for everyone. They clean your hands and kill viruses when you don’t have access to warm water and soap. This, in turn, limits the spread of disease and helps keep public areas less high-risk. For healthcare professionals, hand sanitizers are an essential component of safe day-to-day routine. They help prevent cross-contamination between patients and doctors, and so ensure a reduction in the chance of disease spreading in healthcare environments.

Surface disinfectants serve the same function for non-organic surfaces as hand sanitizers do for our hands. Because bacteria and viruses can survive on surfaces for several hours, it’s pivotal to keep areas clean, particularly when suspected or confirmed cases have touched them. Hospitals are always extremely stringent with their cleaning routines, because it is one of the most effective infection control measures available.

Disinfection measures during the coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus is highly contagious and has been spread across the world at a high speed since its discovery in 2019. Right now, nations on every continent are implementing infection control measures, and disinfecting surfaces is one of them. At an individual level, it is every person’s responsibility to keep their hands clean. Because we touch so many surfaces throughout the course of a day, hand hygiene is essential – as well as keeping those surfaces clean.

When possible, the WHO recommends that individuals clean their hands in soap and warm water, and keep a safe distance from each other in public. As an extra effort, it can be wise to carry hand sanitizer so that you can take extra care and help prevent further spread of the coronavirus in your community.

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