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Hand sanitizer is 'useless' against the norovirus: CDC research

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Attention, germaphobes: Those little bottles of hand sanitizer in your purse or backpack are no defence against the dreaded norovirus – the infectious scourge that leaves victims expelling fluids from both ends.

Although alcohol-based disinfectants prevent certain strains of flu, they are "useless" against viruses – including the norovirus – that are not coated in lipid "envelopes," the New York Times reports.

The chilling news is based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the winter of 2006-07, researchers determined that facilities in which staff used alcohol-based sanitizers were six times more likely to have an outbreak of norovirus compared to those in which staff cleaned their hands using soap and water.

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"This study suggests that preferential use of [alcohol-based hand sanitizer] over soap and water for routine hand hygiene might be associated with increased risk of norovirus outbreaks," the researchers concluded.

Norovirus – a.k.a. "vomiting disease" – is hitting provinces harder than it has in years, thanks to a nasty new strain against which people don't have immune defences.

The norovirus has sidelined prominent Canadians including Shawn Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations, who is stepping aside temporarily because of the illness.

Recovering from the norovirus normally takes about five days of serious gastrointestinal distress, but sufferers may continue spreading the virus for up to a week after recovering, the Telegraph reports.

Bleach kills the norovirus, but will also corrode hands. Which means we're left with the viral defence of yore: washing hands thoroughly with lots of soap and warm water. Repeat ad nauseam.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More


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