Hand gels may help families fight stomach ills
When one child in a family comes down with a stomach bug, alcohol-based hand gels may help keep it from spreading to everyone in the house, researchers reported Tuesday.
In a study of nearly 300 families, the researchers found that those that were given hand-sanitizing gels to use at home tended to suffer fewer cases of “stomach flu.” All of the families had young children in daycare, putting them at high risk of passing around the colds and gastrointestinal bugs that preschoolers often bring home.
Alcohol-based hand gels are widely used in hospitals and nursing homes because studies have found that healthcare workers who use them harbor fewer disease-causing microbes on their hands. The new study is the first controlled trial of hand gel use in the home.
It found that over 5 months, families that used the hand sanitizers had 60 percent fewer cases of gastrointestinal illness passed on from their preschooler. There was no clear advantage to using the hand gel when it came to colds.
Dr. Thomas J. Sandora and his colleagues at Children’s Hospital Boston report the findings in the journal Pediatrics.
One of the most common ways people catch a cold is by touching someone or something contaminated with cold virus particles, then touching their own eyes, nose or mouth. Similarly, bugs that cause vomiting and diarrhea can be transmitted, for instance, when an infected person prepares food for someone else, or when a parent changes a sick child’s diaper. Because of this, good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to ward off colds and gastrointestinal woes.
Soap and hot water do the job well, but since a sink is not always nearby, alcohol-based hand gels can offer a convenient substitute. The new findings, Sandora and his colleagues write, show that hand sanitizers—along with better awareness of the importance of hand hygiene—may be useful in homes as well as hospitals.
The study included 292 families that were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one given educational materials about hand hygiene, along with a 5-month supply of hand gel; and one that received neither.
The maker of the hand gel, Akron, Ohio-based GOJO Industries, funded the research.
Overall, Sandora’s team found, families that received the hand gel reported fewer bouts of vomiting and diarrhea than the comparison group did. This was not the case, however, when it came to runny noses and other respiratory symptoms—a somewhat surprising finding, according to the researchers.
However, they note, at the start of the study, parents tended to say they were more lax about washing their hands after wiping a child’s runny nose than after changing a diaper. Such inconsistency could prevent hand gels from making a difference in cold transmission, the researchers point out.
In support of that theory, the authors add, the study did find that families that used the hand gel the most—about four or five times a day—had a modestly lower rate of colds than families that used the product less often.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, September 2005.
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