Hand-Washing Might Not Help Much Against Flu

Some scientist say it's airborne, not spread by touch
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 16, 2009 7:38 PM CDT
The last bottle of Purell hand sanitizer is sold at a West Aid Pharmacy in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Everyone from Elmo to President Obama is telling people to wash their hands to avoid getting the swine flu, and Disney could make a killing on “Musical Hand Wash Timers” featuring its stable of characters. But Newsweek talks to scientists skeptical of the approach: Hand-washing might be great for colds, but not so much against the flu because they say it's transmitted by air instead of through touch.

“We don't want to create a crisis in confidence,” says a scientist in charge of a flu-research center in Minnesota. “But we have to be honest: the evidence doesn't show that hand-washing prevents the spread of the influenza virus.” A Berkeley epidemiologist agrees and fears the simplistic focus on washing hands could give people a false sense of security. The CDC stands by its advice as a good practice against "respiratory infections in general" but stresses that the best practice is to get a flu shot in October.