Impact of a large-scale handwashing intervention on reported respiratory illness: Findings from a cluster-randomized controlled trial

Nusrat Najnin, Karin Leder, Andrew Forbes, Leanne Unicomb, Peter J. Winch, Pavani K. Ram, Fosiul A. Nizame, Shaila Arman, Farzana Begum, Shwapon Biswas, Alejandro Cravioto, Stephen P. Luby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We assessed the impact of handwashing promotion on reported respiratory illness as a secondary outcome from among > 60,000 low-income households enrolled in a cluster-randomized trial conducted in Bangladesh. Ninety geographic clusters were randomly allocated into three groups: cholera-vaccine-only; vaccine-plus-behavior-change (handwashing promotion and drinking water chlorination); and control. Data on respiratory illness (fever plus either cough or nasal congestion or breathing difficulty within previous 2 days) and intervention uptake (presence of soap and water at handwashing station) were collected through monthly surveys conducted among a different subset of randomly selected households during the intervention period. We determined respiratory illness prevalence across groups and used log-binomial regression to examine the association between respiratory illness and presence of soap and water in the handwashing station. Results were adjusted for age, gender, wealth, and cluster-randomized design. The vaccine-plus-behavior-change group had more handwashing stations with soap and water present than controls (45% versus 25%; P < 0.001). Reported respiratory illness prevalence was similar across groups (vaccine-plus-behavior-change versus control: 2.8% versus 2.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: −0.008, 0.006; P = 0.6; cholera-vaccine-only versus control: 3.0% versus 2.9%; 95% CI: −0.006, 0.009; P = 0.4). Irrespective of intervention assignment, respiratory illness was lower among people who had soap and water present in the handwashing station than among those who did not (risk ratio adjusted : 0.82; 95% CI: 0.69–0.98). With modest uptake of the handwashing intervention, we found no impact of this large-scale intervention on respiratory illness. However, those who actually had a handwashing station with soap and water had less illness. This suggests improving the effectiveness of handwashing promotion in achieving sustained behavior change could result in health benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-749
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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