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Is how we wash our hands and use sanitizer ineffective against fighting the flu?

Could you still be spreading the flu even after you use hand sanitizer or even wash your hands? One study found it's happening with our current hand hygiene routine.

The warning is out there, and flu cases already have been reported around the city.

"This flu season is going to be early," Dr. Richard Sullivan, of Allegheny Health Network, said. "It's supposed to be very intense."

Sullivan is the Jefferson Hospital ER director. He said in the last week he's seen at least three cases of the flu.

>>RELATED: Doctors brace for a severe flu season, urge people to get flu shot now

Some people think using hand sanitizer helps prevent the flu from spreading and use it more this time of year.

"I use it every time I walk by it. I am kind of a germaphobe a lot of times," Kristen Mayes, of Franklin Park, said.

"I have it with me all the time," Steve Ufford said.

But Sullivan said it might not be enough. New research shows the flu virus can still spread even after hand washing and using hand sanitizers.


"We're spreading it from our sinuses and our nose and our throat," Sullivan said. "It turns out that when it's covered with mucus, the usual soaps that we have been using to clean our hands are not as effective as we originally thought."

Sullivan said the study found people need to wash and sanitize hands longer than 30 seconds.

"It needs up to four minutes to kill all the bacteria and the viruses, particularly the flu," Sullivan said.

Sullivan added, if you use hand sanitizer, you need to use more than just a few drops.

That shocked people like Kristen Mayes.

"That would take four minutes to absorb and my hands would be wrecked," Mayes said while pointing to a half dollar-size amount of sanitizer in her hand. "No one uses that much."

Sullivan said the best protection is to get a flu shot.

>>RELATED: CDC urging pregnant women to get flu shot, whooping cough vaccines

"You will be protected yourself, and you're going to protect the people around you," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the flu can last up to a week on surfaces, and that's why it's important to wash your hands after you cough or sneeze and before you eat.