06/27/2016 10:05 EDT | Updated 06/27/2016 10:59 EDT

Celebrate Canada Day And Independence Day Safely With Hand Sanitizers

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Female using gel sanitizer with green healthy blurry background.

This weekend marks the celebration of two great neighbours. On Friday, Canada will be celebrating its 149th birthday while on Monday our neighbours to the south will be marking the grand old age of 240 years. As one might expect, the two countries will be jam packed with events and millions of people will take part.

While the idea of heading out from home to join in the festivities may seem like a no-risk situation, one particular concern has risen from negligible to worrisome. The spread of infectious diseases at large events, also known as mass gatherings has become a major concern as a result of numerous outbreaks. The issue has become so great mathematical models have been developed to predict an outbreak depending on the event. Even social media can be harnessed to determine whether an outbreak has occurred.

Most of the research on mass gatherings has been focused on those attracting the greatest number of people, such as the Hajj and the Olympics yet smaller events have also gained the spotlight such as fairs and music festivals. Essentially, if a crowd is present, so is the risk for disease transmission.

The almost exclusive role of hands in infection disease spread does offer a relatively simple option to social isolation.

The situation worsens somewhat when one considers the climate around this time of year. For the most part, it's hot; people will be sweating and spreading all sorts of microbial inhabitants. Most will be harmless but some may lead to skin, respiratory, and those always unwelcome gastrointestinal infections. The latter trouble can also come from unsafe food. That risk is present not only at outdoor gatherings but also in restaurants and other kiosk-based food establishments.

Then there's the toilet issue. Unless facilities are in place, the most likely options will be portable toilets. Some may come with accompanying portable sinks but most of the time, there's no means to sufficiently keep clean.

In light of the risks, it may be surprising to learn one common factor involved: the hands. They are responsible for about four-fifths of all infection transmission. As soon as they become contaminated with pathogens, people can infect themselves or others over the course of several hours. The data is so strong at the most recent Olympics in London, some athletes were instructed not to shake hands with other people to stay safe.

The almost exclusive role of hands in infection disease spread does offer a relatively simple option to social isolation. Perform hand hygiene. It may seem easy enough yet most locations hosting events and mass gatherings simply do not have enough sinks, water, and soap to ensure full protection for everyone. Not to mention the likelihood of someone actually using soap and water even if available is fairly low even at the riskiest of times such as working in a busy food establishment. Imagine how few will even care to think about handwashing in the middle of the rush.

There is a welcome answer to this dilemma. It's the use of an alcohol-based handrub, better known as a hand sanitizer. The use of alcohol as a means for hand hygiene isn't new. The practice has been around since the 1930s and has shown over the years to be, at times, superior to soap and water. Even better, there are no added chemicals like the ineffective antibacterial triclosan. This makes these rubs safe for you and the environment.

Perhaps what makes alcohol hand sanitizers is the ease of use. To get those hands clean, all that's needed is a decent dollop with enough volume to cover the hands and keep them wet for 15 seconds. Rub until dry and the majority of infection-causing bacteria and viruses are killed off. Just be sure the alcohol concentration is between 62 and 70 per cent.

As for prevention of infection spread, there is plenty of information showing the benefit of hand sanitizers in health care. They are now considered to be the best way to keep patients and staff safe as anyone who has works at or has visited these facilities no doubt appreciates. The rubs have become so popular they can now be found in offices, shopping malls, and schools.

To keep yourself safe during your celebrations, just make sure to keep the alcohol-based hand sanitizer close and use it often. If you've touched any unknown surface (and that includes another person), handled raw foods, , or used that portable toilet, make sure to take those 15 seconds to keep yourself safe. Although it may not guarantee you won't get sick, the risk will certainly be reduced. This way, the only thing you may catch during Canada Day and Independence Day will be a sense of national pride.

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