RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Concern over swine flu, the H1N1 virus, has been a big boost for companies that make hand sanitizers. Tens of millions of bottles have been sold. And as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, they can now be found just about everywhere.
JEFF BRADY: In downtown Denver, Peggy Hamilton says she's always pulling out her small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Ms. PEGGY HAMILTON: I think it's good to carry in your purse just because if you have little kids or grandkids, they touch a lot of things.
BRADY: Truck driver Steven Alt says he uses it on the road.
Mr. STEVEN ALT (Truck driver): Well, it's good for killing germs, bacteria, and a nice cooling sensation when you put the hand sanitizer, you know. It's the idea of feeling extra clean.
BRADY: Look around and there's hand sanitizer just about everywhere these days: schools, grocery stores, office buildings. Those little bottles have become such a part of our culture, they're even showing up in movie trailers.
(Soundbite of movie, "Zombieland")
Unidentified Man #1: Welcome to Zombieland.
BRADY: At the end of this clip, four actors are pushing a zombie off a roof.
(Soundbite of movie, "Zombieland")
Unidentified Man #2: You guys want some Purell?
Unidentified Woman #1: Yes.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
BRADY: Purell is one of a number of hand sanitizers and remains the best selling. According to the Chicago-based research firm Information Resources, the hand sanitizer market was worth more than $117 million last year. And that figure doesn't include retail giant Wal-Mart. The segment grew nearly 17 percent over the past year - that at a time many consumer product sales were declining.
Ohio-based Gojo Industries invented Purell. The company still makes the product for places like hospitals and schools. Recently, Gojo put out a statement asking customers not to stockpile hand sanitizer. Angela Watkins is the company spokesperson.
Ms. ANGELA WATKINS (Spokesperson, Gojo Industries): We have made huge investments to increase our capacity, running our plants 24/7 and increasing staff.
BRADY: Look around the campus at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and you can see why the folks at Gojo are so busy. Dispensers are everywhere. The school was hit with more than 560 flu cases since August. Journalism dean Paul Voakes says he's taken a lot of ribbing because he brought sanitizer with him to graduation ceremonies in May.
Dean PAUL VOAKES (Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder): We had hand sanitizer placed at two different positions as you were about to ascend the stairs to the stage, and two different positions as you descended.
BRADY: Voakes says after he shook 15 to 20 hands, he'd rub a little sanitizer in to make sure any bugs he picked up didn't get passed on. He says the modest investment and the teasing were worth it.
Dean VOAKES: To my knowledge, nobody got swine flu as a result of our commencement.
BRADY: That's good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dean VOAKES: I was relieved.
BRADY: Lest you think a bottle of hand sanitizer is all you need to ward off swine flu, we've enlisted the help of Dr. John Boyce. He's chief of infectious diseases at the hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut. He also co-wrote CDC guidelines for hand washing in health-care settings.
Dr. JOHN BOYCE (Chief of infectious diseases, Saint Raphael): Hand hygiene is considered one of a number of measures that can be used to reduce flu transmission. And it's not the only one.
BRADY: Dr. Boyce says don't forget your flu vaccination. And if you can avoid being around sick people, he says do it. If not, don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth. If you do get sick, stay home. And when you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, then throw it away.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
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