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Forget Juicy or Armani. Brand names like Purell have become the hottest thing on the market.

Since reports of H1N1 hit the media, hand sanitizer seems to be in every purse or backpack. But is it smart pandemic planning or just paranoia?

“There’s a divide between people who use it normally and people who are obsessed,” said Erica Boccia, first-year radio and television arts student.

Boccia said she witnessed someone stealing an entire station’s supply of hand sanitizer from campus. “I think it’s honestly a little overrated,” she said. “Having them is a good reminder to take precautions but it’s not something that’s huge on my mind.”

Boccia only uses it when she feels she may have been in contact with a lot of germs, like after coming out of the subway or the mall.

Dr. Su-Ting Teo, director of student health and wellness, thinks using hand sanitizer is important.

“As a part of pandemic planning, hand sanitizers provide an easy method of killing influenza on your hands so that you do not pick it up or pass it along,” she said in an e-mail.

With manufacturers claiming a quick rub of sanitizer kills up to 99.9 per cent of bacteria on your hands, the gel may trump hand washing in efficiency and convenience. But sanitizer is not without its downfalls. Due to its high alcohol content (60 to 95 per cent), sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning when ingested.

While this is a major concern for small children, the homeless population around Ryerson seems to have gotten the memo about this new readily available fix.

Over the past year Imre Juurlink, security supervisor at Ryerson, remembers three documented cases of sanitizer consumption on campus. It’s not common, but it does happen.

According to Dr. Teo, the biggest health risk of this behaviour is alcohol poisoning, which can be easily achieved when the alcohol by volume can be triple that of vodka. While most Ryerson students may not be lining up at the nearest Purel pump for a sip, the average user may face other risks as well.

Chad Warford, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University in chemistry and materials science, explained that because of the quick evolution of bacteria, sanitizers are strengthening the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.

“What we’re doing is killing the weak [bacteria] and selecting the strong ones. Then, we have to use more powerful antibiotics to kill those; then, new strains evolve to survive those antibiotics,” he said. “Before long, all our known antibiotics will be useless.”

Joseph Chen, a third-year business management student, is on the fence about the issue.

“I still think washing hands is still the number one way to keep clean and hygienic but it’s pretty handy when there’s no washroom around and you want to eat or clean your hands.” —With files from Amanda Cupido

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