Effectiveness of Hand Hygiene against the "Flu" Virus

Along with personal protective equipment, hand hygiene using either soap and water or an alcohol-based handrub can play a vital role in preventing the transmission of the influenza virus on the hands of healthcare workers.

Hand hygiene should be performed at the point of care where potential contact with the virus may occur and will greatly reduce the chance of the virus being transmitted via the hands. As the availability of handwashing facilities and time is often limited, alcohol-based handrubs will often be the best way to achieve this.

Below is the abstract from a paper published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, supporting the important role of hand hygiene using either soap and water or alcohol-based handrub against the influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Feb 1;48(3):285-91.
Efficacy of soap and water and alcohol-based hand-rub preparations against live H1N1 influenza virus on the hands of human volunteers.

Grayson ML, Melvani S, Druce J, Barr IG, Ballard SA, Johnson PD, Mastorakos T, Birch C.
Infectious Diseases Department, Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria 3084, Australia.

BACKGROUND: Although pandemic and avian influenza are known to be transmitted via human hands, there are minimal data regarding the effectiveness of routine hand hygiene (HH) protocols against pandemic and avian influenza.

METHODS: Twenty vaccinated, antibody-positive health care workers had their hands contaminated with 1 mL of 10(7) tissue culture infectious dose (TCID)(50)/0.1 mL live human influenza A virus (H1N1; A/New Caledonia/20/99) before undertaking 1 of 5 HH protocols (no HH [control], soap and water hand washing [SW], or use of 1 of 3 alcohol-based hand rubs [61.5% ethanol gel, 70% ethanol plus 0.5% chlorhexidine solution, or 70% isopropanol plus 0.5% chlorhexidine solution]). H1N1 concentrations were assessed before and after each intervention by viral culture and real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The natural viability of H1N1 on hands for >60 min without HH was also assessed.

RESULTS: There was an immediate reduction in culture-detectable and PCR-detectable H1N1 after brief cutaneous air drying--14 of 20 health care workers had H1N1 detected by means of culture (mean reduction, 10(3-4) TCID(50)/0.1 mL), whereas 6 of 20 had no viable H1N1 recovered; all 20 health care workers had similar changes in PCR test results. Marked antiviral efficacy was noted for all 4 HH protocols, on the basis of culture results (14 of 14 had no culturable H1N1; (P< .002) and PCR results (P< .001; cycle threshold value range, 33.3-39.4), with SW statistically superior (P< .001) to all 3 alcohol-based hand rubs, although the actual difference was only 1-100 virus copies/microL. There was minimal reduction in H1N1 after 60 min without HH.

CONCLUSIONS: HH with SW or alcohol-based hand rub is highly effective in reducing influenza A virus on human hands, although SW is the most effective intervention. Appropriate HH may be an important public health initiative to reduce pandemic and avian influenza transmission.