In a randomized trial at 68 city primary schools in New Zealand, researchers asked children to use the alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers after coughing or sneezing and on the way out of the classroom for morning break or lunch.

All children received a 30-minute in-class hand hygiene education session.

Researchers found that the provision of a hand sanitizer did not reduce the number of absences due to a specific illness (respiratory or gastrointestinal), the length of illness and length of absence from school, or the number of episodes in which at least one other family member became ill.

In 2,443 children whose parents agreed to be telephoned about the reason for absence, researchers reported that the rate of school absences due to any illness was similar in the intervention and control schools.

When using school attendance records from all children in the participating schools, they found the number of absences for any reason and length of absence episode did not differ between the intervention and control schools.

The trial was undertaken during an influenza epidemic. "The provision of hand sanitizers in addition to usual hand hygiene in primary schools in New Zealand did not prevent disease of severity sufficient to cause school absence," authors noted in a paper published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

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