Researchers from Children's Hospital Boston had reported in the current edition of Pediatrics that use of alcohol based hand sanitizer gels are effective in reducing stomach problems from gastro-intestinal infections.
In a study of 292 Greater Boston families -- half of which were given hand sanitizer -- those that used the gel had a 59 percent reduction in the spread of GI illnesses.
The families were recruited through day care centers, and all had a least one child in day care. Families already using hand sanitizer were excluded from the study. Half the families were randomly assigned to receive hand sanitizer and educational materials on hand hygiene. They were told to place bottles of the gel around the house, including bathroom, kitchen and baby's room, and to apply it to their hands after using the toilet, before preparing food, after diaper changes, etc. The remaining families, serving as controls, received only materials about nutrition, and were asked not to use hand sanitizer. The two groups reported similar rates of hand washing on an initial questionnaire.
For five months, investigators tracked the families, phoning every other week to record how much hand sanitizer had been used, whether someone had developed a respiratory or GI infection, and whether the illness had spread to others in the home. The families given hand sanitizer had a 59 percent lower incidence of secondary GI illnesses as compared with the control group, after adjustment for other factors such as the number of young children in the household. In addition, families reporting higher amounts sanitizer usage (more than 2 oz in 2 weeks, indicating 4-5 uses per day) were about 20 percent less likely to transmit respiratory illnesses, but this effect didn't reach statistical significance.
A related study from Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, did observe a protective effect against respiratory illness among families who used hand sanitizer gels at their own initiative.
The alcohol-based gels, widely available in stores, do not require water and rapidly kill most bacteria and viruses on the skin. They are a convenient alternative for busy parents who are unable to get to a sink while caring for sick children.