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Hand Sanitizer Gel Works

September 6, 2005
Children's Hospital Boston
Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel significantly reduces the spread of gastrointestinal infections in the home, according to a study in the September issue of Pediatrics. In the first randomized study to look at hand sanitizers, involving 292 Greater Boston families, the families that used the gel had a 59% reduction in the spread of GI illnesses.

Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel significantly reduces thespread of gastrointestinal infections in the home, according to a studyin the September issue of Pediatrics. In a study of 292 Greater Bostonfamilies -- half of which were given hand sanitizer -- those that usedthe gel had a 59 percent reduction in the spread of GI illnesses.

"This is the first randomized trial to show that hand sanitizerreduces the spread of germs in the home," says Dr. Thomas J. Sandora, aphysician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's HospitalBoston and lead author of the study, dubbed "Healthy Hands, HealthyFamilies."

The families were recruited through day care centers, and allhad a least one child in day care. Families already using handsanitizer were excluded from the study. Half the families were randomlyassigned to receive hand sanitizer and educational materials on handhygiene. They were told to place bottles of the gel around the house,including bathroom, kitchen and baby's room, and to apply it to theirhands after using the toilet, before preparing food, after diaperchanges, etc. The remaining families, serving as controls, receivedonly materials about nutrition, and were asked not to use handsanitizer. The two groups reported similar rates of handwashing on aninitial questionnaire.

For five months, investigators tracked the families, phoningevery other week to record how much hand sanitizer had been used,whether someone had developed a respiratory or GI infection, andwhether the illness had spread to others in the home. The familiesgiven hand sanitizer had a 59 percent lower incidence of secondary GIillnesses as compared with the control group, after adjustment forother factors such as the number of young children in the household. Inaddition, families reporting higher amounts sanitizer usage (more than2 oz in 2 weeks, indicating 4-5 uses per day) were about 20 percentless likely to transmit respiratory illnesses, but this effect didn'treach statistical significance.

"We think that's probably because people were more diligentabout using the sanitizer after a GI-related incident, such as usingthe bathroom or vomiting, than after a respiratory incident, such asnose-wiping or sneezing," says Sandora, also an instructor at HarvardMedical School.

A related study from Harvard Medical School and Children'sHospital Boston, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, didobserve a protective effect against respiratory illness among familieswho used hand sanitizer gels at their own initiative.

The alcohol-based gels, widely available in stores, do notrequire water and rapidly kill most bacteria and viruses on the skin.They are a convenient alternative for busy parents who are unable toget to a sink while caring for sick children.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7.5 millionchildren under age 5 are enrolled in day care, placing them at highrisk for respiratory and GI infections, which they readily transmit tohousehold members.

Although handwashing with soap and water is effective inreducing the spread of most infections, it requires access to a sink.In addition, there is evidence that rotavirus, the most common GIinfection in the child-care setting, is not removed effectively by soapand water but is reliably killed by alcohol.


Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children'sHospital Boston today is the nation's leading pediatric medical center,the largest provider of health care to Massachusetts children, and theprimary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. Inaddition to 347 pediatric and adolescent inpatient beds andcomprehensive outpatient programs, Children's houses the world'slargest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, whereits discoveries benefit both children and adults. More than 500scientists, including eight members of the National Academy ofSciences, nine members of the Institute of Medicine and 10 members ofthe Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's researchcommunity. For more information about the hospital visit:

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Materials provided by Children's Hospital Boston. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Children's Hospital Boston. "Hand Sanitizer Gel Works." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 September 2005. <>.
Children's Hospital Boston. (2005, September 6). Hand Sanitizer Gel Works. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2024 from
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