Variable exposure to causative agents of acute respiratory (RTI) or gastrointestinal tract infections (GTI) is a significant confounding factor in the analysis of the efficacy of interventions concerning these infections. We had an exceptional opportunity to reanalyze a previously published dataset from a trial assessing the effect of enhanced hand hygiene on the occurrence of RTI or GTI in adults, after adjustment for reported exposure and other covariates.
Twenty-one working units (designated clusters) each including at least 50 office employees, totaling 1,270 persons, were randomized into two intervention arms (either using water-and-soap or alcohol-rub in hand cleansing), or in the control arm. Self-reported data was collected through weekly emails and included own symptoms of RTI or GTI, and exposures to other persons with similar symptoms. Differences in the weekly occurrences of RTI and GTI symptoms between the arms were analyzed using multilevel binary regression model with log link with personal and cluster specific random effects, self-reported exposure to homologous disease, randomization triplet, and seasonality as covariates in the Bayesian framework.
Over the 16 months duration of the trial, 297 persons in the soap and water arm, 238 persons in the alcohol-based hand rub arm, and 230 controls sent reports. The arms were similar in age distribution and gender ratios. A temporally-associated reported exposure strongly increased the risk of both types of infection in all trial arms. Persons in the soap-and-water arm reported a significantly - about 24% lower weekly prevalence of GTI than the controls whether they had observed an exposure or not during the preceding week, while for RTI, this intervention reduced the prevalence only during weeks without a reported exposure. Alcohol-rub did not affect the symptom prevalence.
We conclude that while frequent and careful hand washing with soap and water partially protected office-working adults from GTI, the effect on RTI was only marginal in this study. Potential reasons for this difference include partially different transmission routes and a difference in the virus load. In this trial, frequent standardized hand rubbing with ethanol-based disinfectant did not reduce the weekly prevalence of either type of infections.
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT00821509, 12 March 2009.