The Food and Drug Administration would very much like hand sanitizer brand Purell to stop claiming that if you, dear consumer, slather your hands in their product you will be safe from the flu and other viruses like the Ebola virus. Because you won’t be. No one should feel all that safe handling some chips after leaving a house full of kids sick with the flu just because they rubbed Purell on their hands, let alone splashing some on and then eating a sandwich in a Liberian emergency room.
Purell does not explicitly say anything like, “Afraid Grandma and her shoddy old immune system won’t survive this year’s flu season? Bathe her in our hand sanitizer!” Still, though, the FDA isn’t wild about what Purell is saying about its effectiveness against the flu either.
The FAQ portion of Purell’s website has this to say:
The FDA does not allow hand sanitizer brands to make viral claims, but from a scientific perspective, influenza is an enveloped virus. Enveloped viruses in general are easily killed or inactivated by alcohol. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a preventive measure for flu prevention.
While Purell is extremely effective against bacteria, its 70% ethyl alcohol is not, in the eyes of the FDA, strong enough to napalm viruses off of your hands. For that, the alcohol content would need to be at 90%. (Start soaking your kids’ hands in Everclear if the Wuhan coronavirus makes it over here, apparently.)
On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control still recommends using hand sanitizers like Purell if soap and water aren’t available and you’re around a whole mess of leaky people. The problem isn’t that Purell does nothing, according to the FDA, just that it doesn’t do enough to make its claim legitimate.