Washing Kids' Hands Can Keep Everyone Healthy

Some people are going to fairly great lengths to avoid infection with H1N1 influenza. But the best way to curb respiratory illnesses is to keep little hands clean. Very little hands. And very clean.

Scientists at the Cochrane Library looked at 51 studies of ways to contain respiratory virus epidemics. Frequent hand washing; using gloves, gowns and masks with filtration; and isolating sick people were all found to be effective. But children's hygiene had the biggest effect.

One large study involved 4,332 children in Pakistan. Those who washed their hands several times a day with soap had 50% fewer episodes of respiratory illness than children with standard hygiene practices. Another study found those who used alcohol hand gels plus hand washing had a 43% lower absenteeism rate.

Flu is thought to be transmitted from young children to older ones and adults. Thus, cleaning up little hands might go a long way toward keeping everyone healthy. Parents should teach proper hand washing, and parents and teachers should work to implement hand-washing routines at school, the authors wrote.

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