Is how we wash our hands and use sanitizer ineffective against fighting the flu?

Is how we wash our hands and use sanitizer ineffective against fighting the flu?

Could you still be spreading the flu even after you use hand sanitizer or even wash your hands? One study found it's happening with our current hand hygiene routine.

The warning is out there, and flu cases already have been reported this season.

"This flu season is going to be early," said emergency room director Dr. Richard Sullivan. "It's supposed to be very intense."

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Some people think using hand sanitizer helps prevent the flu from spreading and use it more this time of year.

Barnstable resident Ellen Hannigan told Boston 25 News anchor Heather Hegedus she carries a small bottle of hand sanitizer on her commute.

“It's always with me,” Hannigan said.  “That tiny little bottle?” Hegedus asked.  “Yes!” Hannigan replied.

But Sullivan said it might not be enough. New research shows the flu virus can still spread even after hand washing and using hand sanitizers.

"We're spreading it from our sinuses and our nose and our throat," Sullivan said. "It turns out that when it's covered with mucus, the usual soaps that we have been using to clean our hands are not as effective as we originally thought."

Sullivan said the study found people need to wash and sanitize hands longer than 30 seconds.

"It needs up to four minutes to kill all the bacteria and the viruses, particularly the flu," Sullivan said.

Sullivan added, if you use hand sanitizer, you need to use more than just a few drops.

That shocked people like Hannigan. "Would you use that much?” Hegedus asked her. "I guess if it's going to prevent it, but I never have," Hannigan answered.

Sullivan said the best protection is to get a flu shot.

"You will be protected yourself, and you're going to protect the people around you," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the flu can last up to a week on surfaces, and that's why it's important to wash your hands after you cough or sneeze and before you eat.