If you feel like you pick up every little cold within a 100-mile radius of you, you're probably right. Turns out, viruses spread way faster than we thought they did. In fact, they can go from your hand to the office coffee pot in less than two hours, Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona professor told a group of experts at the most recent American Society for Microbiology meeting in D.C. this week.
Every time you are touching these surfaces, you are picking up 30 to 50 percent of the organisms that are on those surfaces,” Gerba said at the conference. Then you touch your face, and the viruses can either get into the eyes nose or mouth, or get back onto your fingers. “The average adult touches their face on average once every three or four minutes,” Gerba continued.
But before you panic, know this: Using hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes can cut down on the spread of viruses by a lot, Gerba said.
Anna Bowen, M.D., medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), agrees that using hand sanitizer can help prevent the spread of germs—but only if you use the right one.
"Look for one that contains 65 to 90 percent ethyl alcohol," Bowen recommends. "Generally, that tends to be the best balance to be effective but not too drying or irritating on your skin." Our picks? Germ-X (63 percent alcohol), Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer Refreshing Gel (70 percent alcohol), or Bath & Body Works (68 percent; plus, bonus points for the pumpkin spice latte flavor!).
If you're in a pinch (or just not near a sink), Bowen suggests using baby wipes. "However, baby wipes tend not to have alcohol in them, so be sure to follow up by washing your hands as soon as possible," she says. Try Burt's Bees Baby Bee Face & Hand Cloths.
A word of caution: Bowen says to skip any sanitizers with triclosan or benzalkonium chloride listed. Due to concern about the long-term environmental and health impacts, the FDA has recently called for a review of those those two ingredients. Stick with alcohol-based products, and don't forget: When in doubt, old-fashioned soap and water will do the trick too.