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Hand hygiene is a simple, low-cost intervention that may lead to substantial population-level effects in suppressing acute respiratory infection epidemics. However, quantification of the efficacy of hand hygiene on respiratory infection in the community is lacking. We searched PubMed for randomised controlled trials on the effect of hand hygiene for reducing acute respiratory infections in the community published before 11 March 2021. We performed a meta-regression analysis using a Bayesian mixed-effects model. A total of 105 publications were identified, out of which six studies reported hand hygiene frequencies. Four studies were performed in household settings and two were in schools. The average number of handwashing events per day ranged from one to eight in the control arms, and four to 17 in the intervention arms. We estimated that a single hand hygiene event is associated with a 3% (80% credible interval (-1% to 7%)) decrease in the daily probability of an acute respiratory infection. Three of these six studies were potentially at high risk of bias because the primary outcome depended on self-reporting of upper respiratory tract symptoms. Well-designed trials with an emphasis on monitoring hand hygiene adherence are needed to confirm these findings.

Original publication




Journal article


Epidemiology and infection

Publication Date





Nuffield Department of Medicine, Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7BN, UK.


Humans, Respiratory Tract Infections, Bayes Theorem, Epidemics, Hand Disinfection, Hand Hygiene