A MyClyns ad shows a child getting sprayed with the solution. (MyClyns / October 18, 2009)

If you've seen the television ad for the anti-germ spray MyClyns, you no doubt remember the pivotal scene: A mom and her two kids sit at a dinner table, the little boy coughs on his sister, and mom heroically grabs the spray bottle of MyClyns. Against all expectations, she doesn't spray the table or the air. Instead, she sprays her daughter. Directly in the face.

MyClyns is intended to kill germs that land on the face before they have a chance to cause illness, kind of like Lysol for the skin.

What's in it?

The only ingredients are water and sodium chloride, the chemical term for table salt. Before the water is bottled, it gets zapped with an electric charge. The result is "super oxidized" water that contains small amounts of hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ions, two of the key components of chlorine bleach.

Users are instructed to use MyClyns "as quickly as possible" on the "entire affected area" after being exposed to germs.

Who is it for?

Germ-ridden families aren't the only intended market for MyClyns. Union Springs Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of the product, also sells it to fire departments, police departments and ambulance crews. According to company President Joel Ivers, MyClyns is being used by first responders in more than 2,000 communities across the country.

A 0.2-ounce spray bottle, sold at major drugstores and many grocery stores, costs $9 or $10. This should be enough for about 60 sprays. The Web site says the solution will stay fresh for about three months after the first spray.

The claims

The TV ad says that MyClyns "kills 99 percent of germs and is safe for the eyes, nose and mouth where germs can enter your body." Although the boy in the ad appears to have a bad cold, Ivers clarifies that the spray isn't intended to treat any specific disease. (The FDA has approved MyClyns as a device, not as a drug, so the company can't claim to treat specific illnesses.)

The bottom line

MyClyns undoubtedly kills germs, says Dr. Marc Eckstein, professor of emergency medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and medical director for the Los Angeles Fire Department. But at home or on the job, he says, a face-full of MyClyns may not be the best way to prevent illness.

"If someone coughs in your face at 60 miles per hour, decontaminating your face won't help," Eckstein says. Coughs and sneezes release germ-covered particles in the air, he explains, and people catch illnesses by inhaling the particles pretty much immediately. By then, it's far too late for a face spray, he says.

What it could be good for

Though it may not do much to prevent colds and flu, a spray of MyClyns could theoretically help protect first responders from blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or perhaps even HIV, Eckstein adds. Instead of depending on a spray to kill the germs from accidental blood splatters, however, first responders should wear masks and other protective gear, he says.

Several scientific studies have shown that MyClyns can kill a wide variety of germs. A 2005 study in Mexico found that the same solution in MyClyns killed yeast as well as E. coli and staph bacteria in the laboratory. The study also found that it was effective against HIV and adenovirus, a type of respiratory virus, in the lab. The solution has also been shown to speed the healing of diabetic foot ulcers, presumably because it wiped out germs that could cause a sore to fester.

Because it kills so many germs without any harsh chemicals, MyClyns could be useful for cleaning doorknobs or countertops, says Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, chief of the division of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

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Avoiding illness How you get sick. The main way that illnesses such as colds and flu are spread is when a sick person's cough or sneeze droplets land on the mouths or noses of healthy people nearby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces such as cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks.

Avoidance strategies. Encourage sick people to cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away, or to cough into their hands and wash them immediately if a tissue isn't available. Wash your own hands frequently, and/or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.