They had discovered a COVID-19-neutralizing revelation.
As Brigham Young University researchers excitedly reviewed the results of their study, they found a new hope for a weary America and a new truth: the long-held rules have changed in the disinfecting fight against COVID-19.
Extensive research from BYU shows alcohol-free hand sanitizer to be just as effective as alcohol-based sanitizers at disinfecting surfaces from the COVID-19 virus.
That’s refreshing news for an exhausted American public now in its second year of fighting the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans and infected more than 25 million people in the USA alone.
“Our results indicate that alcohol-free hand sanitizer works just as well, so we could, maybe even should, be using it to control COVID,” said lead study author Benjamin Ogilvie told Sci Tech Daily.
BYU scientists conducting the study (“Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer and Other Quaternary Ammonium Disinfectants Quickly and Effectively Inactivate SARS-CoV-2” by Benjamin H. Ogilvie, Antonio Solis-Leal, J. Brandon Lopez, Brian D. Poole, Richard A. Robison and Bradford K. Berges), published Nov. 28, 2020 in the Journal of Hospital Infection, suspected the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention’s preference for alcohol sanitizer stemmed from the currently limited research on what effectively works to disinfect SARS-CoV-2. To investigate other possible options, scientists treated samples of the novel coronavirus with benzalkonium chloride.
In benzalkonium chloride, the common ingredient used in alcohol-free hand sanitizers, and other quaternary ammonium compounds commonly found in disinfectants, scientists unearthed a new COVID stopper.
In most test cases, benzalkonium chloride obliterated the virus with 15 seconds, wiping out at least 99.9%.
For sanitizers, it’s no longer alcohol or bust to neutralize COVID. Since the dawn of the pandemic, experts had urged the public to use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content to kill the coronavirus.
Alcohol-free hand sanitizers, which have long been proven stoppers of the common cold and flu viruses, offer more comfort than alcohol-based sanitizers for many users, Ogilvie notes.
“Benzalkonium chloride can be used in much lower concentrations and does not cause the familiar ‘burn’ feeling you might know from using alcohol hand sanitizer. It can make life easier for people who have to sanitize hands a lot, like healthcare workers, and maybe even increase compliance with sanitizing guidelines,” he said.
With healthcare centers, schools and public buildings, across the country facing supply shortages of disinfectants, having an alcohol-free COVID-19 killing option is essential as the United States enters what Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), warns will be the country’s most harrowing and challenging period of the pandemic as the virus rages “out of control.”
In the face of supply shortages, “having more options to disinfect hospitals and public places is critical,” added Ph.D. student Antonio Solis Leal, who conducted the study’s experiments.
For users, switching to alcohol-free hand sanitizer is a simple move logistically.
“People were already using it before 2020,” said BYU professor and coauthor Brad Berges. “It just seems like during this pandemic, the non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been thrown by the wayside because the government was saying, ‘we don’t know that these work,’ due to the novelty of the virus and the unique lab conditions required to run tests on it.”
But Benzalkonium chloride’s remarkable ability to kill viruses surrounded by lipids – like COVID – led BYU researchers to rethink the common misconception that non-alcoholic hand sanitizer would be powerless to contain COVID. Researchers saw a potential new effective weapon against containing the greatest world health threat of the 21st century. They went to work attempting to prove their hypothesis.
Researchers put COVID samples in test tubes and then mixed in different compounds, including .2% benzalkonium chloride solution and three commercially available disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds, as well as soil loads and hard water.
They worked quickly to simulate real-world conditions as hand sanitizer has to disinfect quickly to be effective. Researchers neutralized the disinfecting compounds, removed the virus from the tubes, and placed the virus particles on living cells.
The verdict: The virus failed to invade and kill the cells, signaling that it had been deactivated by the compounds.
“A couple of others have looked at using these compounds against COVID,” Berges said, “but we’re the first to actually look at it in a practical timeframe, using four different options, with the realistic circumstance of having dirt on your hands before you use it.”
The long-term health implications for the study’s findings could be seismic, from giving an exhausted America another weapon at stopping transmission of the virus to changing U.S. government directives on hand sanitizer use and effectiveness.
For now, alcohol-free hand sanitizer’s emergence as a viable COVID-killer will hopefully relieve shortages in the market and give Americans a sure, safe method of controlling the coronavirus.
“Hand sanitizer can play an especially important role in controlling COVID,” Ogilvie concluded in his summary report on the study’s results. “This is information that could affect millions of people.”