The effect of hand hygiene promotion programs during epidemics and pandemics of respiratory droplet-transmissible infections on health outcomes: a rapid systematic review

BMC Public Health. 2021 Sep 25;21(1):1745. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-11815-4.


Background: Public health strategies in the context of respiratory droplet-transmissible diseases (such as influenza or COVID-19) include intensified hand hygiene promotion, but a review on the effectiveness of different ways of promoting hand hygiene in the community, specifically for this type of infections, has not been performed. This rapid systematic review aims to summarize the effectiveness of community-based hand hygiene promotion programs on infection transmission, health outcomes and behavioral outcomes during epidemic periods in the context of respiratory droplet-transmissible diseases. We also included laboratory-confirmed health outcomes for epidemic-prone disease during interepidemic periods.

Methods: We searched for controlled experimental studies. A rapid systematic review was performed in three databases and a COVID-19 resource. Following study selection (in which studies performed in the (pre-)hospital/health care setting were excluded), study characteristics and effect measures were synthesized, using meta-analyses of cluster-RCTs where possible. Risk of bias of each study was assessed and the certainty of evidence was appraised according to the GRADE methodology.

Results: Out of 2050 unique references, 12 cluster-RCTs, all in the context of influenza, were selected. There were no controlled experimental studies evaluating the effectiveness of hand hygiene promotion programs in the context of COVID-19 that met the in-/exclusion criteria. There was evidence that preventive hand hygiene promotion interventions in interepidemic periods significantly decreased influenza positive cases in the school setting. However, no improvement could be demonstrated for programs implemented in households to prevent secondary influenza transmission from previously identified cases (epidemic and interepidemic periods).

Conclusions: The data suggest that proactive hand hygiene promotion interventions, i.e. regardless of the identification of infected cases, can improve health outcomes upon implementation of such a program, in contrast to reactive interventions in which the program is implemented after (household) index cases are identified.

Keywords: Acute respiratory syndrome; COVID-19; Hand hygiene; Hand washing; Influenza; Respiratory infections.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Hand Hygiene*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2