During the fight against Covid-19, does using hydroalcoholic gel everywhere and at all times endanger our immune system? Specialists answer them.

In this period of fight against Covid-19, hydroalcoholic gel awaits us at the entrance of each store and restaurant.


“The immune system needs to be confronted with microbes to cope with bacteria”, informs Stephan Harbarth, infectious disease specialist and hygienist at HUG. Indeed, when a child touches a dirty surface, then sucks his thumb in the next minute, we say to ourselves despite disgust that “it will give him antibodies!” In this period of fight against Covid-19, by dint of disinfecting ourselves all the time, do we risk becoming less resistant?

“You have to distinguish between the targeted preventive measures that we apply and excessive disinfection,” explains Stephan Harbarth. His opinion is shared by Laurence Senn, chief physician, head of the Hygiene, Prevention and Control of Infection Unit at the CHUV. She assures him: “The use of hand sanitizer when we are away from our home will not change our ability to defend ourselves against infections.” The specialist also recalls that it is “not necessary to use disinfectants at home. Usual cleaning of its accommodation with detergent is sufficient. “

Possible lags in the future

Outside, however, barrier gestures, including the use of antibacterial gel, reduce our contact with the world around us. We pay more and more attention to our health and that of others. Laurence Senn reassures: “We are far from the aseptic bubble. People leave their homes, go into nature, swim in lakes, garden, children play in parks, etc. ” And therefore, we are confronted with microbes. Thus, hydroalcoholic solutions do not seem to have a negative impact on the immune system.

“The richness of our microbiota, namely the non-pathogenic bacteria present in our digestive tract, in our respiratory tracts and on our skin, associated with basic hygiene measures protects us from infections which can sometimes be severe and ensures us a efficient immune system ”, adds the chief physician. She takes the example of caregivers in hospitals: “They disinfect their hands dozens of times a day throughout the year without impacting their health.”

For his part, Stephan Harbarth, however, thinks of possible lags in the future: “In some nurseries, where draconian measures to fight against Covid-19 are applied, we can imagine that there will be fewer viral infections such as than the common cold, which will contract later in the year, for example. ” In Ireland, a study is currently being carried out to try to determine whether the new coronavirus and the particular period it spawned had an impact on the immune defenses of babies.

Keeping barrier gestures

The two specialists also agree on the importance of maintaining the good habits established as soon as the pandemic appears. “Certain actions, which have become reflexes, will protect us in the future from other respiratory or digestive infections,” explains Laurence Senn. Among them, we can cite the flu, the common cold and gastroenteritis which we will be “less likely to catch next spring”. As for the infectious disease specialist and hygienist at HUG, he “hopes that thanks to barrier gestures, the flu will cause fewer deaths”.

And this particular summer during which we are not advised to go on vacation abroad also has health benefits: “We thus avoid the importation of resistant germs and bacteria through food, such as salmonella for example”, remarks Stephan Harbarth.

Antibacterials dangerous to health

“Disinfectants can cause long-term sensitization in some people, especially in the respiratory tract, such as asthma, and skin problems”, confided to the RTS Nathalie Chèvre, ecotoxicologist at the University of Lausanne. The specialist insisted last May on the “very powerful and very toxic” nature of these products. At the same time, the WHO warned against those who are sprayed to “clean” outdoor spaces: “Spray chlorine or other chemicals, even outdoors, can be dangerous for human health, both physical and psychological ”. Eye and skin irritation, bronchospasm and gastrointestinal disturbances can occur, for example, on contact with these disinfectants, the organization developed. The FOPH, which also warns against dangers, drew up a “list of authorized disinfectants for the fight against influenza and coronavirus viruses ”.

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