Hand sanitizer gel works
Research led by Thomas Sandora, MD, MPH, in Children's Hospital Boston's Division of Infectious Diseases, shows that using alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel significantly reduces the spread of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses. In a study of 292 families, those that used the gel had a 59 percent reduction in the spread of GI illnesses as compared with families that didn't.
"This is the first randomized trial to show that hand sanitizer reduces the spread of germs in the home," says Dr. Sandora, who presented his results at the 42nd annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "Using hand sanitizer can be an alternative to soap and water when a sink isn't convenient."
All participating families had at least one child in day care. Half were given hand sanitizer and educational materials on hand hygiene. They were told to place bottles of the gel around the house, and to apply it to their hands after various activities. The remaining families received only materials about basic nutrition. For five months, investigators phoned every other week to record how much sanitizer had been used, whether someone had brought home a GI infection and whether the illness had spread to others in the home.
In addition to GI infections, families using sanitizer were less likely to transmit respiratory illnesses, but the effect wasn't statistically significant. "We think that's probably because people were more diligent about using the sanitizer after a GI-related incident, such as using the bathroom or vomiting, than after a respiratory incident, such as nose wiping or sneezing," Dr. Sandora says.
Hand sanitizer gels are alcohol-based, and while they don't remove surface dirt, they do reduce pathogens on skin, and cause less skin irritation than soap and water.