It Kills Germs: Can It Wipe out Ebola?

Clean hands go a long way toward preventing the spread of many illnesses, including Ebola. But finding the right hand-wash to impede deadly germs is tricky.

A squirt of alcohol-based sanitizer like Purell kills or denatures many microbes on contact. In the case of bacteria, essentially poking holes in their cell membranes, causing them to shrivel up like water balloons. For viruses, the mechanism is not well-understood. But alcohol evaporates after 15 seconds, allowing for rapid recontamination. Also, alcohol-based sanitizers are mostly ineffective against norovirus, which causes stomach and intestinal issues. And they can chafe the skin.

Chlorine is one of the most effective disinfectants against all microbes, including Ebola, according to Paul Roepe, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University. But it too stops working soon after it dries (as does ordinary soap). And it can irritate the skin with repeated use, even in the 0.05 percent diluted chlorine solution used at Ebola treatment centers for hand-washing.

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