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Lancet. 2005 Jul 16-22;366(9481):225-33.

Effect of handwashing on child health: a randomised controlled trial.

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  • 1Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, National Centers for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.



More than 3.5 million children aged less than 5 years die from diarrhoea and acute lower respiratory-tract infection every year. We undertook a randomised controlled trial to assess the effect of handwashing promotion with soap on the incidence of acute respiratory infection, impetigo, and diarrhoea.


In adjoining squatter settlements in Karachi, Pakistan, we randomly assigned 25 neighbourhoods to handwashing promotion; 11 neighbourhoods (306 households) were randomised as controls. In neighbourhoods with handwashing promotion, 300 households each were assigned to antibacterial soap containing 1.2% triclocarban and to plain soap. Fieldworkers visited households weekly for 1 year to encourage handwashing by residents in soap households and to record symptoms in all households. Primary study outcomes were diarrhoea, impetigo, and acute respiratory-tract infections (ie, the number of new episodes of illness per person-weeks at risk). Pneumonia was defined according to the WHO clinical case definition. Analysis was by intention to treat.


Children younger than 5 years in households that received plain soap and handwashing promotion had a 50% lower incidence of pneumonia than controls (95% CI (-65% to -34%). Also compared with controls, children younger than 15 years in households with plain soap had a 53% lower incidence of diarrhoea (-65% to -41%) and a 34% lower incidence of impetigo (-52% to -16%). Incidence of disease did not differ significantly between households given plain soap compared with those given antibacterial soap.


Handwashing with soap prevents the two clinical syndromes that cause the largest number of childhood deaths globally-namely, diarrhoea and acute lower respiratory infections. Handwashing with daily bathing also prevents impetigo.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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