Kids Who Use Hand Sanitizer Over Hand Washing Miss Fewer Days Of School

by Julie Scagell
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The hand washing only group had a 21 percent higher risk of contracting a respiratory infection

If you have school-age kids, or kids in daycare, or kids that leave the house ever to go out in public, you’ve probably already dealt with one round of cold or flu-related sickness this season. As parents, we’re always trying to keep our kids healthy, preaching to them about not drinking out of someone else’s cup and of course always washing their hands. But, according to a new study we should be sending them everywhere with hand sanitizer instead.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics this week, found that kids who used hand sanitizer missed less school and got sick less than those who hand washed alone.

The study followed 911 children up to age three who attended daycare. The kids, their families, and their daycare center staff were then split into three groups: One group used only hand sanitizer to clean their hands, one group used soap and water, and the third (control group) followed their usual hand-washing routines.

What they found was the hand sanitizer group missed 3.25 percent of the school days, the least amount of days missed over the other two groups. The soap and water group missed 3.9 percent and the control group, 4.2 percent. Though the percentages seem somewhat insignificant, researchers also found those in the soap and water group had a 21 percent higher risk of contracting a respiratory infection, which means trips to the doctor, antibiotics, and an all-around crabby kid (and parent).

As a parent, I’d always thought soap and water reigned supreme and that hand sanitizer could end up making kids more sick by striping away immunity or causing germs to develop a resistance. Even the CDC says “washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol” because those are most effective at killing germs.

Chief medical and scientific officer emeritus at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, Dr. Don Goldman, told CNN “I think that the main contribution of this paper is its focus on really young children in day care. I think this does build on previous literature to support the notion that you can reduce the spread of respiratory tract infections in really young kids if you use alcohol hand sanitizer.”

Assuming most parents have the “avoid illness at all costs” mentality, preaching hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers may be the best bet at avoiding sick days as much as possible.

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