Using the Web to promote better hand-washing habits may help reduce the risk of transmitting infections, researchers recently found.
The study, published online Aug. 7 on The Lancet website, showed an effective Internet program aimed at increased hand-washing could have a major impact on reducing the spread of respiratory infections and influenza-like illnesses.
Researchers focused on 20,066 participants in the U.K. who were recruited via mail and took part in the study across three winters between January 2011 and March 2013. About 16,000 participants received access to an automated web-based intervention that encouraged hand washing, monitored hand-washing behavior, offered customized feedback, reinforced helpful attitudes and addressed negative beliefs, according to the study, led by Paul Little of the University of Southampton.
Researchers found 51% of individuals with access to the web program reported one or more incidence of respiratory tract infection with 59% of those without the program reporting one or more RTI episode.
Although a previous investigation concluded hand-washing intervention is effective for children, particularly those in low-income environments, it questioned the effectiveness of the practice for older children and adults. But researchers in The Lancet study insist their findings prove that both adults and children in a household benefit from hand washing in high-income countries, though the impact is smaller than in resource poor environments. This may be attributed to several reasons, including affluence, public health infrastructure, baseline hand-washing frequency and infection rates, the study stated.
Study findings also addressed the impact of hand washing on germ transmission to and from household members, with results showing a 15% to 25% relative reduction in infections and a 10% reduction in doctor visits and antibiotic prescription. Researchers deem those results crucial because of the encumbrance of RTI and the risks of antibiotic resistance.
Although the positive outcomes from the Web intervention program were not measured on people outside of participants’ households, researchers believe the effects would have been even greater had they been included, according to the study.
Professor Chris van Weel of the department of primary and community care at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands commented on the research, noting how technology can be an excellent tool in healthcare. Influenza can be highly contagious, van Weel wrote, and the risk of transmission exists wherever people meet, such as work, school or public transportation. The study shows the importance of a people-based primary healthcare approach, he wrote.
“Little and colleagues deserve praise for their ability to preserve the real-life environment of busy primary care in the research setting of their trial, which facilitates the translation of the study into routine practice,” van Weel concluded. “Their use of the Internet to reach households, inform and instruct individuals about hand washing, and maintain its application is innovative. This approach was founded on important values of general practice and primary care: its relation to a defined community population, with the family and household setting as a key focus, and empowerment of people to care for their own health as a core objective.”
To comment, email [email protected]