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Battling swine flu one sanitizer at a time

The looming menace of the H1N1 flu virus has triggered an outbreak of hand-sanitizing dispensers, which will become permanent fixtures at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport and in many area schools, stores and markets.

The wall-mounted sanitizers, containing an alcohol-based cleanser, will be in Medford schools by early October, providing "good hygiene for the flu season," said Tania Tong, school district student services manager.

"You push a button, some foam drops out and you rub your hands together. You don't need a towel. It evaporates," said Tong.

"The feedback we get is that it's great."

The airport has four sanitizers operating at entrances, said airport manager Bern Case.

"You don't have to touch them," Case said. "They operate by motion detectors. I use them as I walk by and they don't leave any smell."

Sanitizers also are available at entrances to Fred Meyer stores, next to the shopping carts, with a sign saying that wiping cart handles kills 99.9 percent of germs.

"It's the greatest thing they've come out with," said Wylene Rogers of Ashland as she wheeled a cart away at the South Medford Fred Meyer. "There's a lot of little germs out there and people don't wipe their hands much. I feel a whole lot safer."

Alcohol-based sanitizers are as effective as the age-old first line of defense — washing hands with soap and water — and the sanitizers are proliferating at this time because of the huge publicity about swine flu, said Susan Bizeau, communicable disease nurse with Jackson County Health Department.

The primary times for hand cleaning, she said, are before eating and after sneezing or blowing your nose.

"If you don't clean your hands before eating a sandwich, you're eating whatever's on your hands," she said.

Dispensers using Purell solution are provided to the airport and schools free, with the cost coming from purchase of the sanitizer. Fred Meyer uses Clorox-saturated disinfectant wipes.

While extensive use of antibacterial soaps may cause bacterial resistance, the Purell Web site says testing has never shown that alcohol-based sanitizers cause such resistance — because the solution evaporates and does not remain on hands for a long time.

The airport has one sanitizer upstairs by the restaurant and will soon add another six sanitizers for arriving passengers, Case said.

Swine flu arrived in the U.S. in the spring and has been reported in all 50 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. An H1N1 vaccine will be available in mid-October, while regular flu vaccine is available now.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.