Preparing For Hand Sanitizer-Resistant Infections

Hand sanitizer may not always be the cure-all that it's made out to be.

Recently, I was reminded about the importance of being able to self-support. Earlier this month, hundreds of passengers on two cruise ships, the Voyager of the Seas and the Crown Princess, contracted norovirus and experienced extreme “digestive system distress.”

This particular virus has a couple of interesting features. First, it has a dense outer membrane that is very resistant to alcohol in general and alcohol-based hand sanitizers in particular. No amount of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is going to kill it. You simply must remove it from your skin with an advanced hygiene technique called “soap and water.” Second, people who contract this particular virus normally remain contagious for two weeks after recovering.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see an increase in viruses like this over the next several years. Had this virus been engineered, I’d say the creator was an evil genius. In reality, viruses are simply rugged survivalists that embody the credo of “improvise, adapt and overcome.” It seems only natural that as people use hand sanitizer more and more in place of soap and water, virus mutations that are impervious to alcohol will emerge as the dominant strains.

This isn’t a criticism against alcohol-based hand sanitizers, only a clarion call that hand sanitizer may not always be the cure-all that it’s made out to be and that solid, fundamental hygiene skills should always remain a primary habit.

In fact, Medical News Today reported last August about a presentation at an American College of Preventative Medicine meeting on 161 long-term care facilities that either had a preference for alcohol-based hand cleaners or a preference for soap and water. The report showed that 53 percent of facilities that had a preference for alcohol-based cleaners had norovirus outbreaks as compared to only 18 percent of facilities that had a preference for soap and water.

To be fair, the statistical significance of this study is questionable because of the small sample size, the fact that the groups were segmented due to “preference” and the fact that we can’t know for sure that 100 percent of the outbreaks were accurately identified. Nonetheless, it does mesh with the biological reality that the norovirus isn’t as vulnerable to alcohol as other viruses and bacteria.

This story should also serve as a reminder that large groups of people in close proximity encourage the development, mutation and spread of disease. We’ve seen this with every major flu outbreak for the past 100 years. We see it in dorms, prisons and shelters. We’ve seen it with OWS. We saw it with the two cruise lines. We will see it in the future anytime people, particularly stressed people with weakened immune systems, are in close proximity for extended periods of time, such as in food lines, disaster shelters, etc.

Timing affects the severity of the flu virus each year. In parts of the country where the flu starts hitting critical mass right before Christmas break (and spring break and Thanksgiving to a lesser degree), the flu tends to peter out when kids break for these holidays. But in parts of the country where the flu hits critical mass outside of those holiday times, the close proximity of large numbers of children with questionable or undeveloped hygiene habits helps the flu to spread like wildfire.

What should you do? Here are three quick tips from

  • Get Vitamin D: Aim for 20 minutes of daily full-body (mostly) sun exposure. (Optimal Vitamin D levels can lower your chance of getting the flu by 80 percent.
  • Avoid sugar and processed foods.
  • Get enough rest (so you don’t need caffeine to function). Getting less than six hours of sleep each night increases your chance of contracting illness by as much as 300 percent.

I devote an entire section to this topic in the Urban Survival Course, but a few other quick tips are:

  •  Wash your hands often. Doing so will kill viruses, bacteria, etc. on your hands, and remove them from your hands.
  • To the extent that you can, avoid touching your face. If you have to touch your face, avoid touching your eyes and nose.
  • Use a paper towel to open the restroom door when leaving. Remember that 50 percent to 75 percent of people leave restrooms without washing their hands.
  • Consider using a saline nasal wash (with purified water) at least once a day to help physically remove viruses, bacteria, etc. from your sinuses. Read up on this technique before trying it, as there are some techniques that can spread infection in certain cases.
  • Limit your caffeine intake as much as possible so that you’ll be able to reach the deeper levels of sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours. That means that if you have 200 mg of coffee at noon, approximately 100 mg will still be in your system at 6 p.m. and 50 mg at midnight. Regardless of whether you think your body is immune to caffeine, it does negatively impact your sleep. Sleep is one of the primary tools the body uses to build and recharge the immune system. If you need lots of caffeine to function, it’s a warning sign of a sleep deficit. If you are able to go to sleep immediately after consuming caffeine, it’s most often an indication of exhaustion and/or a blood sugar issue, and the negative effect on deep sleep remains.

If you still want a portable hand cleaning solution, try Wet Ones. Their active ingredient, benzethonium chloride, is effective against norovirus.

More fundamentally, the stories from the cruise lines serve as a reminder of how important it is to be able to self-support after a disaster and to aggressively quarantine sick people if you find yourself in a crowded situation, such as multiple families joining together. It’s also a lesson to people doing large-scale disaster planning to look for post-disaster solutions that are distributed in nature and not centralized.

As an example, a church stocking supplies to be able to feed people after a disaster may want to consider having five, 10 or 20 smaller locations rather than one big centralized location. Distributing supplies is more expensive, requires more people and is less efficient, but it is also more stable and less likely to be wiped out by a single problem.

A Book Suggestion

I just finished a book that I’ve been telling friends that they have to buy called Harbinger. It is an absolute page-turner fiction novel that lays out the real-life parallels between the fall of Israel to the Assyrians as told in the book of Isaiah to 9/11, the 2008 crash and more. The book refers to the Bible throughout, so if that’s a problem for you, you’ve been advised. If, though, you’re like me and enjoy biblically based fiction, you are going to fly through this book in a couple of sittings.

What are your thoughts on the cruise line virus? Do you have any plans for this or future flu seasons in the event that it’s particularly widespread or particularly deadly? If you’re part of a church or group that is active in disaster planning, I’d love to hear whether your approach is centralized or distributed and why you came to the conclusions you did. Please share your thoughts and comments by commenting below:

God bless and stay safe,
–David Morris

Personal Liberty

David Morris

Since 2008, “Survival Dave” has taught over 10,000 people how to survive long term breakdowns in civil order in urban areas-without having to run away to a fully stocked rural retreat. His students range from lifelong SpecOps operators & paramedics to newlyweds & retirees just waking up to preparedness. They all share a common desire to “be the solution” when disasters happen rather than depending on government to save the day. He is the creator of the Urban Survival Course, the author of the “Urban Survival Guide,” and his Urban Survival Playing Cards were recently featured on Glenn Beck’s Christmas Special as a “must have” gift for 2010.

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