Hand sanitizers may not be very effective in slowing the spread of a norovirus outbreak. Just plain old soap and water seems to be much more effective in reducing the microbial count on hands that have been contaminated with the bug.

Norovirus is popularly known as the “cruise ship bug”, because these outbreaks are very often recorded on cruise vessels. Last year alone, cruise ship injury lawyers recorded norovirus outbreaks on cruise vessels, and at least 2 outbreaks were recorded in the month of December alone.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied infectious outbreaks that broke out at 91 long-term care facilities. They identified a total of 73 outbreaks, and at least 29 of them were linked to the norovirus bug.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers found that those facilities where staff members used alcohol-based hand sanitizers, were more likely to experience an outbreak, compared to facilities where staff members used simple and basic hand washing practices with soap and water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus prevention strategies are much more effective if people use soap and water to wash their hands. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used as an additive to soap and water, but must never be used as a substitute.

The reason why alcohol-based sanitizers are not so effective on the norovirus bug, is because norovirus is a non-enveloped virus, that is not coated with lipids. Alcohol therefore has no effect on these viruses. However, the flu virus is coated with lipids, and this coating can easily ruptured by the alcohol found in hand sanitizers.