BYU hand sanitizer study could change FDA, CDC standards

BYU graduate student Benjamin Ogilvie holds containers of African green monkey cells. Similar cells to these, called Vero cells, were used in the BYU study done to test alcohol-free hand sanitizer effectiveness. (Veronica Maciel)

A recent BYU study on the effectiveness of alcohol-free hand sanitizer against SARS-CoV-2 could impact the current FDA and CDC standards on hand sanitizer alcohol content.

“I figured out that the FDA and the CDC had both totally overlooked alcohol-free hand sanitizer as a COVID control tool,” Benjamin Ogilvie said. Ogilvie, a BYU microbiology master’s student, thought of the idea for the study.

BYU professors Brad Berges and Richard Robison are co-mentors to Ogilvie and authors with him on this study. The researchers agree that alcohol-free hand sanitizer is a viable alternative to its alcohol-based counterparts.

“It doesn’t burn your hands if you have dry hands. You can’t light it on fire. It’s non-toxic. It doesn’t make you drunk. You can safely use it in prisons and other sorts of facilities like that. People just need to know that it works,” Ogilvie said.

Now that the proper research has been done, Ogilvie said there is hope that the CDC and FDA will change their standard of only using hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol content.

Using alcohol-free hand sanitizer would also solve many of the problems that come with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, he said. He referenced the FDA recalling over 100 products this summer due to methanol contamination.

“It’s been a huge problem because the FDA loosened their regulations so much for hand sanitizer with alcohol that all of these toxic, sloppily made hand sanitizers were produced,” he said.

In July, the FDA sent out a warning announcing a sharp increase in hand sanitizers containing methanol but were labeled to contain ethanol. According to the FDA website, “methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested.”

Brandon Lopez, an undergraduate research assistant at BYU, uses a Biological Safety Cabinet to pipette cells into a new container. A similar cabinet was used during the alcohol-free hand sanitizer study. (Veronica Maciel)

Berges explained that alcohol-based hand sanitizer was said to be the best option at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Government bodies, and also some researchers, claimed that quaternary ammonium compounds either wouldn’t work to kill the pandemic coronavirus or that they wouldn’t recommend them,” he said. Quaternary ammonium compounds are used in alcohol-free hand sanitizer as a disinfectant in place of alcohol.

Robison and Berges said their research will need to be replicated before the CDC makes any changes. “As soon as there are other studies published that confirm (the research) then I think that they’ll have to take a hard look at it,” Robison said.

Ogilvie has taken measures to make sure the CDC and FDA learn about the study and can change their policies by using a petition to create a formal citizens petition with the FDA.

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