Hand Sanitizer Study Questions Effectiveness Claims

Product advertisements often miss the complete picture when it comes to efficacy, and those for <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/product_liability">hand sanitizers are no different. The Wall Street Journal just reported that some of the claims made in hand sanitizer ads may be glossing over important information. No small issue now that we are deep into cold, flu, and H1N1 season.

The ads are particularly popular right now when consumers are on high alert with flu germ fears and news of SARS and avian flu, said the Journal. But, as the Journal pointed out, some claims don’t include all relevant germs and others rely on laboratory testing results that are not always true to real world usage and experiences.

For instance, in the lab, subjects and areas are sanitized and then covered with the germ in question; not characteristic of what occurs in a typical home, the Journal pointed out.

Regarding claims that a product kills 99.99 percent of germs, Maria Lovera, senior brand manager of skin care for Playtex Products Inc., maker of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes, wrote in an email, quoted the Journal that, “The 99.99% message is more powerful among consumers than ‘antibacterial’ or ‘germ kill’ alone.”

The Journal compared the issue with pregnancy test results. For instance, citing a study awaiting publication, University of New Mexico biochemist Laurence Cole learned that in two of three home-pregnancy test brands, less than two-thirds of all pregnancies in those women who missed their periods were actually detected. While products work, noted the Journal, marketing does not always take human error and normal usage into account. Birth control methods may test as 99 percent effective, but that finding is revealed under “perfect usage” and optimum conditions, explained the Journal.

The same applies to hand sanitizer marketing, which does not always take actual, normal usage into consideration. “It’s the optimal environment for the hand sanitizer to work,” says Jason Tetro, a microbiologist at the University of Ottawa, quoted the Journal. “This differs greatly from the real-world setting.”

Tetro tested three hand-sanitizer products for CBC News in November among eighth grader students in Hamilton, Ontario, reported the Journal. Despite claims of 99.99 percent success, three popular sanitizers actually killed between 46 and 60 percent of the microbes on the children’s hands, much less that what the manufacturers advertise to consumers.

Of note, makers of these products are not required to kill 99.99 percent of all known germs and there are no mandates requiring information on what is killed, just that the “products are effective against a representative sample of microbes,” said the Journal. A product may be useless in killing clostridium difficile, a dangerous gastrointestinal illness or the hepatitis A virus; however, because the product can kill a variety of other germs, the manufacturer can make the 99.99 percent claim of efficacy, said the Journal.

Last year we wrote that a study of sanitizing hand gels, popular with doctors and nurses, found that alcohol-based hand gels do not offer sufficient protection in killing germs and slowing the spread of hospital acquired infections, a growing and deadly problem in this country.

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