Could Having Your Toddler Use Hand Sanitizer Mean Fewer Days Missed From Daycare?

Study: Sanitizers prevented more respiratory infections than soap & water

How many days your son or daughter is home sick with a running nose or cough could be linked to whether your daycare providers use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or plain old soap and water.

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A recent study looked at which option was more effective in keeping little ones free of respiratory infections. Researchers looked at 911 children between the ages of 0 and 3 who were enrolled in daycare facilities.

They divided the children into three groups: one group did their normal hand-cleaning routine, one group was instructed on how to properly wash with liquid hand soap, and the third group used liquid hand sanitizers.

Researchers found that over an eight-month period, the group of children that used the hand sanitizers had 23 percent fewer respiratory infections.

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Ease of use may be at play

“It’s not necessarily that soap and water is less effective, but rather that very young children aren’t as good at washing their hands,” says pediatric infectious disease expert Frank Esper, MD, who did not take part in the study. “It’s a much more complicated situation to put soap on your hands, wring it under the water, and do it well for 20 seconds, as opposed to a squirt of alcohol sanitizer and rub, rub, rub and you’re done.”

Dr. Esper says the study’s results are by no means a reason to abandon using soap and water. Both methods are actually really good at stopping infections.

Teaching proper hand washing is critical

If anything, Dr. Esper says this study points to the fact that little kids should continue to use soap and water, but that it’s important to teach the skill of proper hand washing to the very young. That way they can master it as they get older.

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“Kids and babies are supposed to get infections — it’s going to happen,” Dr. Esper says. “But, how badly they get infected, and how often they get infected, is something that can be controlled with good hand hygiene.” 

It’s best to supervise hand hygiene routines for very young children, he notes, regardless if they are using soap or sanitizer. You need to make sure they are washing thoroughly and using the cleansing products correctly and safely.

Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.

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