An internet programme encouraging handwashing reduced the spread of colds and flu as well as cutting demand for GP consultations and antibiotic prescriptions, according to a report in The Lancet.
The interactive web tool – known as PRIMIT – taught people simple techniques to avoid catching and passing on viruses, monitoring their handwashing behaviour and giving them feedback.
In a study of over 20,000 people from 344 GP practices, those randomly assigned to use the web tool had a 14% lowered risk of catching a respiratory tract infection (RTI) over the 16-week study period – 51% of these people caught an RTI over the study compare with 59% of those who received no intervention.
The risk of catching a flu-like illness was also cut by around 20% in the group using the web tool, as was the chance of a person in their household catching an RTI.
Their need for primary care consultations and antibiotic prescriptions was also reduced by 10-15%.
Professor Paul Little, professor of primary care research at the University of Southampton, who led the study, said: ‘This could have an important impact on reducing the spread of these viruses in the general population, and also help reduce the pressure on NHS services during the winter months.’
Professor Little added that the tool could help reduce the spread of flu and the strain on the NHS during a flu pandemic, ‘at very little cost to the health service’.