WASHINGTON, Sept. 21-Three out of every four men wash their hands after a trip to a public restroom, but the rest seem to be incorrigible, microbiologists reported today. Fewer women fall into that category.
Overall, 82% of more than 6,300 men and women observed leaving restrooms washed their hands in 2005 compared with 78% in 2003, said the American Society of Microbiology and the Soap and Detergent Association.
But women accounted for nearly all of that improvement, the groups said, from 83% to 90%.
Men, however, remained the great unwashed, with a negligible soap-and-water improvement to 75% in 2005 from 74% in 2003.
The groups also reported in a separate survey a suggestion that neither men nor women are all that truthful about their bathroom hygiene. When asked in a telephone survey whether they washed their hands after using a public restroom, 91% said yes, a contrast with the observational survey’s finding of 82%.
“Our message is clear: One of the most effective tools in preventing the spread of infection is literally at our fingertips,” said Judy Daly, Ph.D., the ASM’s secretary and a professor of pathology at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City. “Just 20 seconds of water, soap and rubbing can really cause an extremely wonderful intervention,” said Dr. Daly, who presented the survey findings at a press conference here.
In the telephone survey, 1,013 American adults were questioned in August 2005 about their hand-hygiene habits, including using public restrooms and hand-washing at home. Among the survey’s findings:
91% said they washed their hands after using a public restroom.
83% said they washed after using the bathroom at home.
77% said they washed before handling or eating food.
73% said they washed after changing a dirty diaper.
42% said they washed after petting a dog or cat.
21% said they washed after handling money.
32% said they washed after coughing and sneezing, a figure that concerned researchers.
Hand-washing after coughing and sneezing could reduce the spread of infection, including respiratory diseases, Dr. Daly said. “For two hours, many things can stay alive on the hands. The drier the environment, the more likely the organisms are going to die.”
The telephone interview also found younger adults more likely to wash especially when it came to petting animals, coughing and sneezing, using a public restroom or changing a diaper. Older adults were better at wash-up after handling money and food, or using the bathroom at home.
In the observational survey, the investigators watched 6,336 men and women at six public bathrooms in four major cities. The sites included Atlanta’s Turner Field, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium, New York’s Penn and Grand Central train stations, and San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal Farmers Market. The researchers were asked to rotate the public bathrooms they studied so they didn’t double-count someone.
Among the findings:
Sports fans, especially men, scored with some of the dirtiest hands; overall, 26% of those observed at Atlanta’s Turner Field did not wash. Sixteen percent of the women and 37% of the men did not wash.
The biggest disparities between men and women were observed in New York’s Penn Station. Ninety-two percent of the women washed their hands compared with only 64% of the men.
San Franciscans appeared to have the best hand hygiene habits. Overall, 88% of those observed at the Ferry Terminal Farmers Market washed — 85% of the men and 91% of the women washed their hands.
The findings show that public health experts need to emphasize the importance of hand washing even more often, especially with men, Dr. Daly said.
The researchers pointed out that there has been no evidence to indicate that the popularity of antibacterial household items such as soap and cleaning products have contributed to antibiotic resistance.