NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – With flu season right around the corner, North Texas schools are teaching students to fight back against germs. But some researchers say one weapon – hand sanitizer – may not be as powerful as many people think.

A recent study of primary school children in New Zealand found, while hand sanitizer doesn’t hurt, when used in addition to soap and water, it doesn’t aide in prevention either.

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Researchers studied 2,400 students in 68 schools, who all regularly washed their hands. Those who also used hand sanitizer after coughing, sneezing and before meals, had nearly the same number of absences as students who stuck to plain soap and water, researchers said.

Dr. Donna Persaud is Medical Director and Chief of Pediatrics for Community Medicine at Parkland Hospital. She explained that when hands are not soiled, hand sanitizer is as effective as soap and water.

“Sometimes getting to soap and water isn’t as feasible, so it’s great to have hand sanitizer around.”

But when it comes to children, their hands are often dirtier than adults. Cutting through the grime requires soap and water.

Parents like Kate Hebert, a mom of three, says sometimes her kids reach for hand sanitizer, because it’s quick and accessible.

“It’s an easy way out and some of it is just habit. They see it everywhere and adults are using it everywhere.”

Hebert said she tries to teach her kids to wash their hands first. Now schools are helping with that lesson, too.

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MTS Magnet School in Richardson makes hygiene a fun lesson for young students.

School Nurse Kim Clark sprinkles glow-in-the-dark powder or lotion on kids’ hands, then instructs them to wash up with soap and water and dry with a paper towel. Kids then place their hands under a black light and the places where they missed washing glows in the dark.

“Yes they use hand sanitizer, but washing their hands is the focus,” said Clark. “That is going to get the germs off and get the dirt on their skin off.”

Doctors say hand hygiene is the number one way to prevent the spread of germs, including the flu this fall.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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