Could hand-washing boost your workplace productivity?

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There’s a mountain of evidence to show that frequent and thorough hand-washing helps to stop the spread of disease: from diarrhea in the developing world to drug-resistant germs in the world’s first-rate hospitals. But could hand hygiene make you a more efficient worker as well?

That’s a question that German researchers set out to answer in a paper published today by BioMed Central Infectious Diseases. Sixty-seven volunteers working in public administration in the city of Greifswald, Germany, were given an alcohol-based hand disinfectant to use at work. Over the course of the following year, they were then asked to report  symptoms from a whole slew of common ailments: cold and flu, sinusitis, sore throat, fever, cough, bronchitis, pneumonia, and diarrhea, as well as the total number of days of missed work due to sickness. The volunteers’ responses were then compared to those of 67 other volunteers — also public administrators in Greifswald — who had not been given the hand sanitizer.

Although the two groups did not differ wildly in the number of days they spent home sick, the researchers suggest that the hand-sanitizer group may have been more with it anyway, and more productive, while in the office. The hand-washers certainly felt better. They reported fewer cases of the common cold, as well as less fever and coughing in general.