Why is good Hand Sanitising Habit more important than ever?
This year’s flu season is off to an early start, with 144,000 confirmed cases so far in 2019. That’s more than twice as many confirmed cases of the flu than for all of 2018 (58,000), and almost as many as the 2017 horror flu season (251,000).
What does the research say?
The scientific literature on hand sanitisers isn’t so clear-cut.
A 2019 study in university colleges showed the use of hand hygiene and face masks didn’t protect against flu any better than mask use alone. But unlike some other countries, Australia doesn’t have a strong habit of mask use when people are unwell, so this may not be very helpful to us.
A 2014 study in New Zealand schools showed that providing sanitiser didn’t reduce the rate of absenteeism from school either.
While these studies make it sound like hand sanitiser is not very effective, that’s not the end of the story.
Other studies show a positive effect – a 16% reduction in respiratory illness in one and a 21% reduction in another. For some infections, the evidence is even stronger – for example, gastroenteritis, most of which is also viral.
However, few of these studies showing the benefits of hand sanitisers were done during a large disease outbreak, which means the potential benefit may be even greater.
Not all influenza-like illness is caused by the flu – it can be other viruses as well, so the estimates are a bit rubbery at best. Hand sanitiser trials which look at influenza-like illness or respiratory infections generally are more likely to show benefits than those that just look for influenza – meaning good hand hygiene prevents other infections as well.