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J Infect Public Health. 2013 Feb;6(1):16-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jiph.2012.09.015. Epub 2012 Nov 24.

Assessment of exposure to ethanol vapors released during use of Alcohol-Based Hand Rubs by healthcare workers.

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Infection Prevention and Control, University Hospital of Nancy, France.



Despite the increasing use of Alcohol-Based Hand Rub solutions, few studies have quantified the concentrations of inhaled ethanol.


The aim of this study was to assess ethanol exposure during hygienic and surgical hand disinfection practices.


Ethanol concentrations were measured at the nose level of a wooden dummy and human volunteers. Two systems were used in parallel to determine short-term ethanol vapor exposures: activated charcoal tubes followed by gas chromatography analysis and direct reading on a photoionization detector (PID). Exposure was assessed for 4 different sequences (N=10) reproducing hand rubs for simple surgery, nursing care, intensive care and surgical scrub.


The ethanol concentrations measured were of a similar order between the dummy and volunteers. The concentrations obtained by PID were higher than the gas chromatography values for the simple care (45%) and nursing care (27%) sequences and reflected specific exposure peaks of ethanol, whereas ethanol concentrations were continuously high for intensive care (440 mg m(-3)) or surgical scrub (650 mg m(-3)).


Ethanol concentrations were similar for these two exposure assessment methods and demonstrated a relationship between handled doses and inhaled doses. However, the ethanol vapors released during hand disinfection were safe for the healthcare workers.

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