A hand hygiene and cough etiquette program for elementary school children reduced cases of flu and the number of absences, a new study says.
The study included five Pittsburgh schools that received the training program and five schools that received no special hygiene training. Lessons taught to the children in the five-step “WHACK the Flu” program were:
- Wash or sanitize your hands often.
- Home is where you stay when you are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Keep your distance from sick people.
During the academic year, schools that received the training program had 52 percent fewer confirmed illnesses caused by influenza A and 26 percent fewer student absences. However, there was no decrease in the number of illnesses caused by influenza B.
It’s not clear why there was no decrease in influenza B, but the University of Pittsburgh researchers suggested it may be because of “basic differences in the biology or epidemiology” of influenza B, or because influenza B occurred later in the flu season and mainly in younger children.
The study, published in the November issue of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, also found that the flu program was successful in getting students to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly, an average of 2.4 times per day.
“Respiratory hygiene education and the regular use of hand sanitizer can be an important adjunct to influenza vaccination programs to reduce the number of influenza A infections among children,” Dr. Samuel Stebbins and colleagues wrote in a journal news release.