Background: Hand-washing is regarded as a potentially important behavior for preventing transmission of respiratory infection, particularly during a pandemic.
Objective: The objective of our study was to evaluate whether a Web-based intervention can encourage more frequent hand-washing in the home, and to examine potential mediators and moderators of outcomes, as a necessary first step before testing effects of the intervention on infection rates in the PRIMIT trial (PRimary care trial of a website based Infection control intervention to Modify Influenza-like illness and respiratory infection Transmission).
Methods: In a parallel-group pragmatic exploratory trial design, 517 nonblinded adults recruited through primary care were automatically randomly assigned to a fully automated intervention comprising 4 sessions of tailored motivational messages and self-regulation support (n = 324) or to a no-intervention control group (n = 179; ratio 2:1). Hand-washing frequency and theory of planned behavior cognitions relating to hand-washing were assessed by online questionnaires at baseline (in only half of the control participants, to permit evaluation of effects of baseline assessment on effect sizes), at 4 weeks (postintervention; all participants), and at 12 weeks.
Results: Hand-washing rates in the intervention group were higher at 4 weeks than in the control group (mean 4.40, n = 285 and mean 4.04, n = 157, respectively; P < .001, Cohen d = 0.42) and remained higher at 12 weeks (mean 4.45, n = 282 and mean 4.12, n = 154, respectively; P < .001, Cohen d = 0.34). Hand-washing intentions and positive attitudes toward hand-washing increased more from baseline to 4 weeks in the intervention group than in the control group. Mediation analyses revealed positive indirect effects of the intervention on change in hand-washing via intentions (coefficient = .15, 95% confidence interval [CI], .08-.26) and attitudes (coefficient = 0.16, 95% CI, .09-.26). Moderator analyses confirmed that the intervention was similarly effective for men and women, those of higher and lower socioeconomic status, and those with higher and lower levels of perceived risk.
Conclusions: This study provides promising evidence that Web-based interventions could potentially provide an effective method of promoting hand hygiene in the home. Data were collected during the 2010 influenza pandemic, when participants in both groups had already been exposed to extensive publicity about the need for hand hygiene, suggesting that our intervention could add to existing public health campaigns. However, further research is required to determine the effects of the intervention on actual infection rates.
Trial: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN): 75058295; http://www.controlled-trials.com/ISRCTN75058295 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/62KSbkNmm).