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Hand washing plays a key role in preventing respiratory infection in many clinical settings. However, its effectiveness in preventing acute respiratory illness (ARI) during field training in military training facilities has been not studied.

A quasi-interventional study was performed to evaluate the prevalence of ARIs over 4 weeks in a Korean army training center in South Korea from January 2009 to February 2009. A total of 1291 recruits participating in military training for 4 weeks were randomly distributed to 2 battalions (one with 631 and the other with 660). After noticing there is a difference between the 2 battalions in terms of the development of ARIs at the end of 2 weeks of training, we conducted interviews with the battle commanders to determine factors that may be related to one battalion having a higher incidence of ARI. Thereafter, we performed an intervention, which consists of instructing the battalion having a higher incidence of ARI to implement field hand washing from the third week. Following the intervention, we compared the cumulative rate of ARI during 4 weeks of training.

The interviews revealed that there were no major differences between the 2 battalions in terms of the training schedules, living environments, or indoor hand washing methods. However, there was difference in terms of hand washing during field training for the first 2 weeks; whereas one battalion (the early hand washing group) implemented hand washing during field training starting in the first week, the other battalion did not implement hand washing for the first 2 weeks but instead began in the third week (the late hand washing group). The cumulative incidence rate of ARI during 4 weeks of training was significantly lower in the early hand washing group (13.0%, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 10.6%-15.9%) than in the late hand washing group (28.0%, 95% CI, 24.7%-31.5%).

Our study suggests that outdoor hand washing during field training may be an effective precaution for reducing ARI incidence among recruits participating in military training.

Copyright (C) 2018 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.