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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Hospital hand wash gels 'unreliable'
Hand wash dispenser
Experts say hospitals should keep using rinses
Disinfectant gels recently introduced in UK hospitals may not be reliable for hand hygiene and could contribute to ward infections, research suggests.

They are said to be less effective than both disinfectant rinses and soap and water.

The gels were introduced because they caused less skin irritation, were quicker to administer, and were thought to encourage hygiene compliance.

Hand hygiene among health-care workers is a major priority to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals.


The introduction of any of the tested gels would be a backward step and unnecessarily lower the hygiene standard

Professor Didier Pittet, research co-ordinator
Researchers from Switzerland and Germany carried out research on 10 alcohol-based gels and four alcohol-based hand rinses and compared them to a reference disinfectant.

The reference disinfectant, derived from propanol, complies with European antiseptic standards known as EN 1500.

According to the research, published in The Lancet, none of the gel formulations, most of which were ethanol-based, were as effective as the reference disinfectant within 30 seconds of application.

Contamination risk

All of the hand rinses were equally as effective as the reference disinfectant.

The researchers concluded the hand gels should not be used to replace alcohol-based liquid rinses.

Research co-ordinator Professor Didier Pittet said: "In hospitals where most health-care workers use alcohol-based solutions that already meet the EN 1500 requirements, the introduction of any of the tested gels would be a backward step and unnecessarily lower the hygiene standard.

"An increased risk of cross-transmission would certainly result because the application time in daily practice averages eight to 15 seconds and is unlikely to exceed 30 seconds."

Two brands tested in the survey - Levermed and Spirigel - are used in UK hospitals.

Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals in London use both gels and handwashes, but stress the gels are used only in very specific circumstances.

A hospital trust spokeswoman said: "Gels are used where staff are going between one patient and another and would not come into contact with blood or bodily fluids.

"If they have come into contact with blood or fluid then they should wash with liquid hand wash."

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Health
Controlling hospital infection
22 Jan 02 | Scotland
Hospital virus' impact spreads
05 Apr 00 | Health
Clampdown on hospital hygiene
23 Feb 00 | Health
Hospital fabrics harbour bugs
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