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Study: Sanitizer Beats Soap At Cleaning Kids’ Hands

Pediatrics’ 8-month analysis of 911 toddlers finds kids using hand sanitizer miss fewer days of school, have fewer respiratory infections

Kids are adorable, but as every parent can testify, they are also adorable germ machines.

Kids collect sickly germs and bacteria like Microsoft collects cash: stockpiling them in factors of ten. They trade germs with friends as if they are baseball cards. While soap and water are a time-tested, proven and extremely effective way of keeping kids healthy and in school, a new study published Monday, October 8 by the journal Pediatrics delivered a stunning conclusion.

Pediatrics’ study determined young children who wash their hands with hand sanitizer rather than soap and water miss fewer days of school, have fewer respiratory infections, and need fewer antibiotic prescriptions than classmates who washed their hands using soap and water.

As Fortune Magazine’s Emily Price’s puts it, “Instead of heading to the sink to wash their hands, your kids might be better off reaching for a bottle of hand sanitizer.”

Conducted in Spain, Pediatrics’ study analyzed 911 kids ages 3 and under attending 24 day care centers over eight months. Kids were organized into three groups. One group used hand sanitizer, one group used soap and water, and one group continued using its own handwashing routines.

Over the eight months, the test groups developed 5,211 respiratory infections. The study’s key, telling find was the soap and water group had a 21 percent higher risk of contracting respiratory infections and a 31 percent greater chance of being prescribed antibiotics than the hand sanitizer group. The soap and water group missed day care due to illness 3.9 percent of the time. The hand sanitizer group missed day care just 3.25 percent of time over the course of the study.

“I think that the main contribution of this paper is its focus on really young children in day care,” Dr. Don Goldmann, chief medical and scientific officer emeritus at the Institute of Health Improvement, told CNN. “This does build on the previous literature (such as U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies) to support the notion that you can reduce the spread of respiratory tract infections in really young kids if you use alcohol hand sanitizer.”

The study’s authors stress no parent should rely 100 percent on hand sanitizer to cure their kids’ dirty hands, and regular handwashing with soap and water should be practiced by every child. Soap and water is still the best prescription for grimy hands. But as kids battle an endless assault of runny noses, coughs, sore throats and infections this cold and flu season, Pediatrics’ study proves hand sanitizer’s unrivaled ability to kill germs and bacteria cold in their sickly tracks.

And for infants and toddlers, who are more susceptible to developing respiratory infections because their bodies and immune systems are less equipped to fight them off than healthy adults, hand sanitizer can be a healthy lifeline during the sickliest months of the year.

For as Pediatrics’ study concludes, there is no better way to clean young children’s hands than with hand sanitizer.

“The public may not be aware of how effective hand sanitizer can be,” Janet Haas, director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told CNN. “I think people still think of them as, ‘If you can’t get to a sink, this is second best,’ but in this study, it showed that it was better than soap-and-water handwashing in this group.”