By Logan Conkey, PharmD Student
Students are in the swing of things now that fall has begun. Students are at a higher risk of spreading sickness to others because of the environment they are in. October is here and this month initiates flu season as well as a time where more illness is being shared.1 To prevent the spread of illness, the CDC recommends cleaning hands frequently, including after using the restroom.2 Many people do not like to wash their hands and a survey reported by the American Society for Microbiology reported 1 in 5 teenagers and adults claimed they do not wash their hands after they use the restroom.3 With so many germs being passed around, students often become sick and have to miss school. Recently, a group of researchers in New Zealand wanted to see if there was a relationship between the amount of school days missed due to illness and hand hygiene that included hand sanitizer combined with normal and frequent hand washing.
CNN Health published the article; Hand sanitizer doesn’t help in schools in August this year.4 The article was based on a study that took place in elementary classrooms in New Zealand and compared students who hand washed only and students using alcohol based hand sanitizer along with normal hand washing. All classrooms were taught proper washing techniques to ensure a standard practice and the alcohol sanitizer was provided to make certain it was the same strength throughout. The trial was conducted in 68 elementary schools, during the winter term, with children ages 5-11 The control group was instructed only to use regular hand washing with soap and water when cleaning their hands. The intervention group was instructed to wash their hands with soap and water and include the use of an alcohol-based sanitizer after they coughed, sneezed, and before meals. The outcome was to be determined by comparing the amount of total days students missed due to illness only. The results suggested there was not a significant difference between the groups regarding total days missed. The study did not look at specific illnesses such as flu when collecting data and the study may have been limited because there was a flu epidemic during this season. Another limitation included parental direction and whether the parents were instructing students to differ from the provided procedure. Some students also complained about the taste of the sanitizer on their hands when eating and this believed to have made the children less compliant when using it. The complaints came from a handful of schools and the sanitizer was replaced with an equivalent.5
The CDC says hand washing with soap should be the first option and hand sanitizer should be used if soap and water are not available. Alcohol-based sanitizers do not eliminate all forms of germs.6 It is confirmed that proper hand washing and/or the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers has shown to reduce the risk of infection from certain viruses.7 Alcohol based sanitizers must be strong enough to be effective. Not all sanitizers are created the same and the recommended strength should be at least 60%.8 Other studies performed in the classroom regarding the used of alcohol based hand sanitizers has not persuaded researchers to consider them beneficial enough to place high priority on them and that hand hygiene education is the largest benefactor.9
The study performed in New Zealand provides proof we should not be putting a high priority on placing alcohol-based hand sanitizer in classrooms. Parents should encourage proper hand hygiene and instruct children when the most important times are to wash hands. If hand washing is not an option then hand sanitizer is a good second choice. While there does not seem to be a great benefit to sanitizer in the classroom, there have been no reported risks or problems with using it. The parent or teacher must decide if they want to incorporate sanitizer. There is no way of eliminating illness in children but parents and teachers can work together to improve the health of the classroom.
Are you and your students taking the proper precautions to prevent sickness?
- The Flu Season. CDC Website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- Preventing Seasonal Flu Illness. CDC Website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/preventing.htm. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- Hand Sanitizer doesn’t help in schools. CNN Health Website. Available at: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/08/12/hand-sanitizer-doesnt-help-in-schools/?iref=allsearch. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- Bratsis M. Flu Season: The Best Defense. Science Teacher [serial online]. October 2012;79(7):68. Available from: Education Research Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- Priest P, McKenzie J, Audas R, Poore M, Brunton C, Reeves L. Hand Sanitiser Provision for Reducing Illness Absences in Primary School Children: A Cluster Randomised Trial. Plos Medicine [serial online]. August 2014;11(8):1-14. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- When & How to Wash Your Hands. CDC Website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- Prazuck T, Compte-nguyen G, Pelat C, Sunder S, Blanchon T. Reducing gastroenteritis occurrences and their consequences in elementary schools with alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2010;29(11):994-8.
- Roy K. Rethinking the use of hand sanitizers. Science Scope [serial online]. September 2009;33(1):74-76. Available from: Education Research Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 3, 2014.
- Meadows E, Le Saux N. A systematic review of the effectiveness of antimicrobial rinse-free hand sanitizers for prevention of illness-related absenteeism in elementary school children. BMC Public Health [serial online]. January 2004;4:50-11. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 3, 2014.