Hand Sanitiser vs Soap and Water

Findings from a study conducted at New Zealand’s University of Otago illustrated that incorporating hand sanitiser into classrooms did not decrease school absences related to illness.

The study examined 2,443 students from 68 schools in New Zealand, all of whom ranged from ages 5 to 11. All students received a 30 minutes educational lesson regarding the importance of hand hygiene (washing with water and soap) and the role germs play in causing illness. Only one half of the schools involved received alcohol-based hand sanitizers which were to be used in classrooms over the duration of two winter terms. Students were requested to use these after sneezing or coughing as well as when leaving the classroom for recess and lunch. The remaining schools were to continue washing with water and soap.

Upon any school absence, parents and/or guardians were contacted and asked to explain why their child had not been present at school. Study results established that the amount of sick days experienced by children was similar in the control schools that washed with water and soap and the intervention schools that used hand sanitiser. However, it was noted by lead study author Patricia Priest that these findings do not apply to the control and spread of gastrointestinal illness in hospitals and health care facilities. The use of hand sanitisers in these settings remains paramount to the control of infection.

It was acknowledged by researchers that the study did have its limitations. For example, it was during the 2009 swine flu epidemic that the study was conducted. Therefore, this may have led to an increase in hand hygiene among all children due to the widespread public health messages from government agencies on hand hygiene and additional actions to prevention influenza. Furthermore, this may have disguised any success of the hand sanitiser intervention.

  1. Patricia Priest et al., “Hand sanitiser provision for reducing illness absences in primary school children: a cluster randomised trial,” PLOS Medicine 11, No.8 (2014): 1.
  2. Michelle Healy, “Study: Hand sanitizers not shown to cut school absences,” USA Today, August 12, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/12/sanitizer-use-plus-hand-washing-does-not-reduce-school-absences/13903701/, (accessed September 25, 2014).
  3. Samantha Olson, “Hand sanitizers in classrooms don’t stop kids from getting sick of being absent,” Medical Daily, August 12, 2014, http://www.medicaldaily.com/hand-sanitizers-classrooms-dont-stop-kids-getting-sick-or-being-absent-297736, (accessed September 25, 2014).
  4. Robert Preidt, “Classroom hand sanitizers don’t curb absences, study finds,” Health Day, August 12, 2014, http://consumer.healthday.com/general-health-information-16/hygiene-health-news-396/classroom-hand-sanitizers-don-t-curb-absences-study-says-690535.html, (accessed September, 25, 2014).
  5. Healy, Study: hand sanitizers.
  6. Priest et al., Hand sanitiser provision, 9-10.
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