When ethanol, aloe vera gel and glycerin is high in demand during this critical period of Wuhan coronavirus, do you know that washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is better than fiddling with your sanitizer for 4 minutes? Do you know the difference between bacterial and viral infections? And how they influence the preventative sanitizing method?

Bacterial vs. Viral Infection

Bacteria are single-cell living organisms. As they are living organisms with their cell, they can live independently of the host, inside or outside the body. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria – imagine a virus is the size of an ant, then bacteria would be at least the size of a leave. Viruses are not cells, and they need to rely on host organisms to live and to breed. This important differentiation makes their treatment and prevention different.

Human beings have trillions of bacteria that live with us – both inside our body (majority of bacteria lives in the gut) and on our body (bacteria on our skin) and a lot of these bacteria protect us from infection from undesirable bacteria. In the digestive tract, probiotics refer to the species of desirable bacteria that live in the gut and protect our gut from unwanted bacteria and they rely on the body to supply their nutrients (mostly fiber from fruits and vegetables, or prebiotics). Healthy bacterial colonization is a key part of our immune system. [According to “Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine”, colonization is the presence of bacteria on a body surface (like on the skin, mouth, intestines or airway) without causing disease in the person.] There is no viral colonization though.

Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Viral Treatment

Credit: Soap Yummy (shredded soap is the perfect solution for once-off hand washing!)

Antibiotics are the most common form of medication for treating bacterial infection. As you may be aware, antibiotics will destroy both wanted and unwanted bacteria, so it takes time (if lucky) to rebuild the healthy flora within our system. There are also increasing cases of antibiotic resistance which makes the use of antibiotics challenging. On the other hand, antibiotics do not kill the virus. Anti-viral treatment focuses mostly on the management of symptoms and some anti-viral medication, such as the Anti-HIV used or Anti-Ebola medication explored for treating the latest Wuhan Coronoviral infection. In other words, it is more effective to prevent contraction of the virus than to treat it!

Hand Sanitizer and Soap works differently

One of the main ingredients in hand sanitizer is alcohol and it works by denaturing the protein which the bacteria/virus feeds on. Some of the anti-viral compounds in essential oil (such as eucalyptus, tea tree, star anise essential oil) help to support the sanitization. The process, however, takes time and do not work for all virus. For example, it has been proven that hand sanitizer is ineffective against clostridium difficile, one of the viruses that infect the bowel causing diarrhea.

Washing hands with soap will mechanically remove the bacteria or virus from your hands. Running water together with soap will help to pull the unwanted microbes into the water. Hence, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the way to get rid of the microbes, not killing them.

Some studies compare the effectiveness of removing/killing viral-infected mucus with soap and water vs. hand sanitizer.

The study finds that washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is 90% effective in eliminating the mucus with the virus, whereas it takes more than 4 minutes to be as effective when using hand sanitizer.

20 seconds with soap and water vs. at least 4 minutes with hand sanitizer – it will surely be better to use soap and water. It is cheaper, more sustainable and always available! Keep in mind that there are cautions when it comes to use of hand sanitizer – read our previous blog: Botanical Sanitizer for Emergency

How about a one-time convenient soap that is easy to carry around and hygiene? I recently came across Soap Yummy that is making that possible – Check them out!