Kids will be heading back to school soon and that means colds, flu and other easily shared infections are bound to pick up. But illness and school absenteeism can be significantly reduced through a program of mandatory hand hygiene, according to a recently published study in the American Journal of Infection Control.
For three months in 2007, 290 Danish schoolchildren age 5 to 15 were asked to disinfect their hands with ethanol-based gel three times a day. The children also were taught proper hand-washing techniques.
The school with a hand-hygiene program had 26% fewer missed days than a school with no hygiene program.
By contrast, at a nearby school, which served as a control group, parents of 362 pupils in the same age range received written information about a study of hand hygiene and absenteeism, but the kids weren’t required to alter their habits.
The hand-disinfecting group had 567 missed school days and 280 periods of illness, in which students were absent because of a single cause. After adjusting for the different size student bodies, the hand-disinfecting group had 26% fewer missed days and 22% fewer illness periods than the control school.
A year later, the roles were reversed in the two schools and the researchers compared each group’s data against the year-earlier results. At the hand-disinfecting school, which had been the control school in 2007, the number of missed days for the three-month period in 2008 declined 34% from a year earlier, after adjusting for a drop in enrollment. The number of illness periods fell 23% on an adjusted basis.
But among the 2008 control group, the number of missed days and illness periods didn’t change significantly from the previous year, when the group had been disinfecting hands, suggesting that hand-hygiene programs can be habit forming, researchers said. Compliance was estimated at 25%.
Caveat: In 2008, the study manager for the previous year continued to make weekly visits to the control school where she was remembered as the “hand-washing lady.” Her presence plus posters remaining from 2007 may explain the carryover effect, researchers said. Many control-school teachers still reminded children to wash their hands before lunch.
Title: Comparative studies of hand-disinfection and handwashing procedures as tested by pupils in intervention programs