BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESES: A substantial percentage of school absenteeism among children is related to transmissible infection. Rates of transmission can be reduced by hand washing with soap and water, but such washing occurs infrequently. This study tested whether an alcohol-free instant hand sanitizer (CleanHands) could reduce illness absenteeism in school-age children.
Methods: A 10-week, open-label, crossover study was performed on 420 elementary school-age children (ages 5-12). Students were given a brief orientation immediately prior to the start of the study on the relationship of germs, illness, and hand washing. Each student in the treatment group then received the test product in individual bottles, with instructions to apply one to two sprays to the hands after coming into the classroom, before eating, and after using the restroom, in addition to their normal hand washing with soap and water. The control group was instructed to continue hand washing as normal with non-medicated soap. After 4 weeks of treatment and a 2-week wash-out period, the control and experimental groups were reversed. Data gathered on absenteeism were classified as gastrointestinal or respiratory related and normalized for nonillness-related absenteeism and school holidays.
Results: Compared to the hand washing-only control group, students using CleanHands were found to have 41.9% fewer illness-related absence days, representing a 28.9% and a 49.7% drop in gastrointestinal- and respiratory-related illnesses, respectively. Likewise, absence incidence decreased by 31.7%, consisting of a 44.2% and 50.2% decrease in incidence of gastrointestinal- and respiratory-related illnesses, respectively. No adverse events were reported during the study.
Conclusions: Daily use of the instant hand sanitizer was associated with significantly lower rates of illness-related absenteeism.