Seems like the latest don't-leave-home-without-it is a hand sanitizer. And yes, it's got a lot to do with fear of contracting the H1N1 virus, which, according to James Scott, a microbiologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health, "unlike most other influenza viruses, likely has some amount of contact transmission."
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), as long as the formula is at least 60 per cent ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol), your hand sanitizer can be an effective back-up in battling germ nasties. "Soap and water is best because it washes away the material that holds the virus," Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler Jones told me during a recent press conference. But he agrees that when soap and water isn't available, sanitizers can help.
But you don't have to settle for stuff that smells all-alcohol all the time. Bath & Body Works offers 60-per-cent ethanol anti-bacterial gel cleansers in scents such as Sea Island Cotton and Warm Vanilla Sugar (29 mL, $2 CAN). Shoppers Drug Mart's Life Brand (60 mL, $1.49 CAN) and One Step (60 mL, $1.49 CAN) both offer 62 per-cent ethyl alcohol sanitizers in an array of light fruity fragrances. (One Step also has an Extra-Strength formula -- 473 mL, $6.99 -- with a 70 per-cent alcohol content.)
If you're thinking biodegradeable, Fruits & Passion's Waterless Soap (60 mL, $5 CAN) is 67.5 per-cent plant-derived alcohol, and a company called EO offers sanitizers (60 mL, from $4.69 CAN) that are 62 per-cent certified-organic ethanol and contain organic essential oils as well as organic jojoba oil to keep hands soft.
â€¢ Make sure hands are free of visible dirt.
â€¢ Use enough to wet both hands thoroughly, directs the Public Health Agency of Canada. Rub into palms, backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails.
â€¢ In general, to reduce your risk of getting sick, "keep hands away from eyes, nose and mouth," Dr. David Butler Jones told me.
â€¢ Don't worry about becoming "sanitizer dependant." Microbiologist James Scott says he's not aware of any evidence that suggests their use lowers the body's ability to combat bacteria on its own.
Bath & Body Works, bathandbodyworks.com; Life Brand, Shoppers Drug Mart;One Step, drugstores, grocery stores and mass retailers; Fruits and Passion, fruits-passion.com; EO, well.ca, Pistachio, The Big Carrot.