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The Low Down Dirty Truth

written by Head Health Nutter June 11, 2011

You may find today’s post shocking and disturbing. Some of you may even be offended. But it’s an important topic that must be discussed for the sake of everyone’s health: hand washing, especially after using the restroom.

I recently made a new friend who works with Toronto’s Public Health. The subject of hand washing came up, and I was reminded of when I worked downtown in an office. It was SO surprising the number of times I would be in the stall, hear someone next to me flush, and then leave without washing their hands. Eww!

That’s when I realized there are people in the world today who do not consider washing their hands with soap and water (especially after using the restroom) an essential aspect of personal hygiene. Nor do they believe this oversight endangers the health of others! It was then that I began the habit of using paper towels to open public washroom doors.

Just how many people out there don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom? After a little research, I found a few surveys online to give us an idea. (Keep in mind that survey results are usually skewed because it relies heavily on people telling the truth AND they fail to reflect the portion of the population who don’t participate in surveys.)

In a 2009 and 2010 Healthy Hand Washing Survey, funded and performed by the bathroom manufacturer Bradley Corporation, the results from over 1,000 respondents showed that the H1N1 virus actually improved public health! In 2009, 45% washed their hands more thoroughly and frequently because of the virus versus the 2010 results where 50% answered yes to the same question.

The Bradley Corporation cites several observational studies, pre-H1N1:

  • In 2003 and 2004, the Minnesota Department of Health saw 75% of women and just 51% of men wash their hands with soap and water after using the public restroom at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
  • In a 2007 study, researchers from the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) found that only 77% actually wash their hands after using a public restroom.

And, thankfully, public washroom hygiene seems to be improving. In a 2010 study, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the ASM and the American Cleaning Institute, over 6,000 people in 6 different locations in 4 American cities were secretly recorded for their hand washing habits in public washrooms. (Source: LiveScience.com) Here are the results:

  • Guys at sporting events showed the poorest results, with barely two-thirds (65 percent) of men washing their hands at Turner Field (Atlanta) restrooms. However, 98 percent of ladies washed their hands at Turner Field.
  • Overall, the rate of women washing their hands in public restrooms improved from 88 percent in 2007 to 93 percent in 2010.
  • Chicago and San Francisco had the best turnout for hand-washing, with 89 percent of adults lathering up in public restrooms.
  • Atlanta was next (82 percent), followed by New York City (79 percent).

Although these numbers indicate an increased awareness for hand washing, clearly there are a large number of people who are spreading germs and infectious bacteria.

Germs stick to objects (like subway poles, door handles, staircase railings, etc.) and can be picked up by those who touch the same objects. Many microbes that can live harmlessly on our skin will wreak havoc if they enter our bodies through the mouth, nose, eyes or through a cut. Proper hand washing is the best way to prevent disease and illness, for both yourself and others.

Check out this Toronto health poster and FAQs for when and how to properly wash your hands with soap and water. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject – for instance, do you think this public health notice takes it too far?

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