The Grapevine

Hand Sanitizer Better Than Soap For Reducing Kids' Sick Days: Study

Is your child falling sick too often and missing a lot of days at daycare? Using hand sanitizer could be more effective than soap and water to tackle this, according to a new study.

The paper titled "Effectiveness of a Hand Hygiene Program at Child Care Centers: A Cluster Randomized Trial" was published in the journal Pediatrics on Oct. 8.

The research team tracked more than 900 children, aged 3 or younger, who attended 24 daycare centers in Almería, Spain. The children were categorized into three groups based on how they cleaned their hands over the eight-month study period.

The first group used hand sanitizer, the second group used soap and water, while the third group (serving as a control group) simply followed the day care center’s usual hand-washing procedures, which was much less strict than the other two.

Next, the team looked at the number of missed days of daycare in each group. The hand sanitizer group missed the least number of days (3.25 percent) while the control group missed the most number of days (4.2 percent). The soap and water group missed 3.9 percent of days, closer to the latter than the former.

"I think this does build on previous literature to support the notion that you can reduce the spread of respiratory tract infections in really young kids if you use alcohol hand sanitizer," said Dr. Don Goldmann, chief medical and scientific officer emeritus at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement.

As we know, children of this age group are likely to spread germs when they deal with runny noses, sore throats, and coughing. Compared to the hand-sanitizer group, the soap and water group had a 21 percent higher risk of contracting a respiratory infection and a 31 percent higher risk of being prescribed antibiotics.

"There is a place for alcohol hand sanitizers, and the public may not be aware of how effective they can be," said Janet Haas, director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "I think people still think of them as 'if you can't get to a sink, this is second best,' but in this study, it showed that it was better than the soap and water hand-washing for this group."

One factor the study did not account for was technique. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hands need to be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds when washing with soap and water. When using hand sanitizer, one must rub the product all over their hands until they are dry.

One report published earlier this year suggested 97 percent of Americans do not wash their hands in this way, so it may be worth examining in future studies. The CDC also noted that sanitizer is not as effective as soap and water were when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.