Alcohol rubs cause skin reactions in some nurses

But four of seven were able to continue use

Cimiotti JP, Marmur ES, Nesins M, et al. Adverse reactions associated with an alcohol-based hand antiseptic among nurses in a neonatal intensive care unit. Am J Infect Control 2003; 31:43-48.

Alcohol-based hand antiseptics are strongly recommended in the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hand-hygiene guideline, but there may be a rub for some health care workers with sensitive skin. In a study comparing two hand-hygiene regimes, an alcohol-based (61% ethyl) antiseptic and a detergent containing 2% chlorhexidine gluconate in two neonatal intensive care units, researchers found adverse reactions associated with the alcohol-based antiseptic.

The prospective study assessed the skin condition of 58 nurses using an alcohol-based product from March 2001 to January 2002. Adverse reactions to the alcohol-based product were noted, and the Fisher exact test was used to determine factors associated with these reactions. Nurses with reactions to the alcohol product who were available for follow-up were patch tested to the product. Of the 58 nurses, seven were evaluated by occupational health services for dermatologic symptoms that varied from mild to severe after use of the alcohol product. However, four of the seven were able to resume use of the product.

"Nurses who had adverse reactions develop had been employed on the study unit and in the nursing profession for significantly less time than those with no reactions, and were significantly more likely to report a history of itchy, sore skin," the authors concluded.