Posts claiming that hand sanitiser only kills bacteria and not the coronavirus have been spreading all over Twitter, and they’re wrong.

The rumour started when Twitter user @jasminjoestar posted that “sanitiser will do nothing for the coronavirus.”

She signed-off: “sincerely, a scientist that is tired of this shit.”

However, hand sanitiser is effective against both bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus. Most state and federal health authorities even recommend it as an alternative to soap.

“Viruses fall into two groups – those with an envelope and those without,” explained Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity at UNSW’s Kirby Institute. “The ones without are notoriously hard to kill.”

“Fortunately, coronaviruses are enveloped, so will be killed by standard disinfection methods such as alcohol or bleach.”

MacIntyre leads a research program into control and prevention of infectious diseases, and had a longstanding collaboration with the Centre for Disease Control in Beijing.

The myth that hand sanitiser is “antibacterial but not antiviral” may be related to confusion surrounding the active ingredients.

UNSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, whose areas of expertise include hand hygiene, said that some ingredients kill bacteria while others kill viruses.

“Simply, ethanol, 70% or more, is the active antiviral ingredient and isopropyl alcohol, 60% or more, is an effective antibacterial,” she explained.

“So effective alcohol based hand rubs have a mix of both.”

McLaws has served as an adviser to the World Health Organisation and was a part of the team which reviewed the SARS outbreak in China.

The original Tweet received over 100,000 retweets and almost 350,000 likes, but has since been deleted. However, @jasminjoestar’s words have been copied verbatim across countless new posts.

Today, she tweeted a clarification.

“The branch of science you’re looking for is virology and epidemiology,” she posted in a later reply.

“I’m not a biochemist, never said I was. I also did clarify it, as I said, in this post.

“I’ve also been retweeting informative tweets that help prevention and raising awareness, making sure the timeline has the right information.”

She did not specify what kind of scientist she is.

Soap and water is still recommended as a first choice by most health authorities to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But hand sanitiser also kills viruses, and is an excellent alternative for those on the go.

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