Australia is currently experiencing one of its worst flu seasons in recent memory. There are consequently lots of kids at home with the sniffles — and the level of germ-awareness at their school appears to make little difference. According to a new scientific study, providing alcohol-based hand sanitisers in classrooms does not reduce school absences in children.
Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand conducted a randomised trial of 68 city primary schools in the country. All children received a 30-minute in-class hand hygiene education session. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser dispensers were then installed in half of the classrooms over two winter terms. They then analysed the number of illness-related absences via school attendance records.
The study found the rate of absences were similar among schools which implemented classroom sanitisers and those that did not, with sanitisers not reducing the levels of any specific type of illness, including colds or gastro. The presence of hand sanitisers also did not reduce the length of absence or the number of episodes in which at least one other family member became ill.
Of the 1,301 and 1,142 follow-up children in the hand sanitiser and control groups, respectively, the rate of absence episodes due to illness per 100 child-days was similar (1.21 and 1.16, respectively). The provision of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser dispenser in classrooms was not effective in reducing rates of absence episodes due to respiratory or gastrointestinal illness, the length of illness or illness absence episodes, or the rate of subsequent infection for other members of the household in these children.
The study acknowledges that the results may have been skewed by an influenza pandemic and associated public health messaging, which may have increased hand hygiene among all children and thereby reduced any additional effectiveness of sanitiser provision.
In any event, it would appear the provision of hand sanitiser in addition to usual hand hygiene has little effect in preventing child-to-child transmission of infectious diseases in schools. So wash your hands — but don't stress about how they're washed.