Hand sanitizers in classrooms do not reduce school absences in children

Installing alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers in the classrooms does not lead to reductions in the rate of school absences in children, according to a study published in this week's PLOS Medicine led by Patricia Priest and colleagues from the University of Otago, New Zealand.

The researchers conducted a cluster randomized trial that that randomly assigned 68 city primary schools in New Zealand to the intervention or control group and measured the rate of absence in (aged 5­–11 years) attending the participating schools. All children received a 30-minute in-class education session. In those schools randomly assigned to the intervention group, alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers were installed in the classrooms over two winter terms and the children were asked to use the dispensers after coughing or sneezing and on the way out of the classroom for morning break or lunch.

In the 2443 children whose caregivers agreed to be telephoned about the reason for absence, the researchers report that the rate of school absences due to any illness was similar in the intervention and control schools. Moreover, among these children, the provision of a hand sanitizer did not reduce the number of absences due to a specific illness (respiratory or gastrointestinal), the length of illness and length of absence from school, or the number of episodes in which at least one other family member became ill. When using school attendance records from all children in the participating schools, the number of absences for any reason and length of absence episode did not differ between the intervention and control schools.

While these findings suggest that providing in classrooms may not be an effective way to reduce child-to-child transmission of infectious diseases in high income countries, there are some limitations to the study. For example, the trial was undertaken during an influenza epidemic, therefore influenza-related public-health messages about good hand hygiene may have increased hand hygiene among all the children in the study and obscured any effectiveness of the intervention. Furthermore, the generalizability of the findings to other high income countries is unclear.

The authors say: "The provision of hand sanitizers in addition to usual hand hygiene in primary schools in New Zealand did not prevent disease of severity sufficient to cause school absence."

More information: Priest P, McKenzie JE, Audas R, Poore M, Brunton C, et al. (2014) Hand Sanitiser Provision for Reducing Illness Absences in Primary School Children: A Cluster Randomised Trial. PLoS Med 11(8): e1001700. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001700

Related Stories

CBT lessons in primary school reduce anxiety in children

date Jul 16, 2014

Introducing lessons in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in primary schools would significantly reduce anxiety levels among 9 – 10 year olds, according to new research published today (Wednesday) in The La ...

Recommended for you

Should men cut back on their soy intake?

date 1 hour ago

Recently, a friend called my husband to inquire about the risks for men in consuming too much soy milk. He had read an article that described how one individual's plight led him down the path of breast enlargement, and was ...

Probing Question: What is umami?

date 2 hours ago

The next time you're at a dinner party and want to spice up the conversation, you might compliment the hosts on their umami-rich appetizers. Then wait a moment until someone invariably asks, "What's umami?"

Will the Affordable Care Act eliminate health disparities?

date 3 hours ago

Massachusetts' health reform may be a crystal ball for researchers and policymakers in forecasting the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act. Many see the ACA as the backbone of efforts toward closing the nation's health ...

Experts question election pledges on GP access

date 14 hours ago

As the general election in the UK approaches, experts writing in The BMJ this week question whether the party promises on access to general practice are likely to be achievable.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.