Risk of catching and passing on infections could be reduced with the help of a web based program encouraging people to wash their hands, suggest a study.
Around 16,000 households in the UK were tested during the winter flu season by researchers. The research appears on The Lancet. A 14% reduction in general risk of infection and a 20% lower risk of catching flu in those who used it, was found. This group also visited their General Practitioners less and needed fewer antibiotics.
Prof Paul Little, from the University of Southampton, who led the research, said that most people wash their hands five or six times a day but if that could be increased to 10 times a day it would have an important effect on reducing the spread of bugs and infections.
Infections in adults could be prevented if they washed their hands more often and reduced their 'viral load' shows previous research. This would benefit particularly for those who have heart or lung problems or the elderly who do not want to catch a flu.
The PRIMIT program has four weekly sessions which explain the medical evidence behind regular hand-washing. It encourages users to learn simple techniques to avoid catching and passing on viruses and to monitor their own hand-washing behaviour.
All those individuals in the study who were using the program were followed for 16 weeks and asked to fill in a questionnaire later.
The programme could be a good source of health information in a pandemic since most households now have access to the internet. The program also helps prevent the National Health Services (NHS) from being overwhelmed.
Prof Chris van Weel, from Radboud University in the Netherlands, said promoting the routine of regular hand-washing was a good thing because it was cost-effective and had public health benefits too.
"The investigators showed improved management of infections while using fewer antibiotics, which is in line with policies to counter the threat of population resistance to antibiotics."