Hand washing low on most Americans' to-do listsPosted on Aug 30th 2006 10:21PM by Kristi Anderson
When I went to the store yesterday, I noticed a sanitizing wipes dispenser next to the grocery carts and baskets. While it's a nice gesture that the store's customers must appreciate, I added it to my cache of social commentary of how we Americans are such germophobes. I personally think we've gone a bit overboard, as we're bombarded with all sorts of antibacterial products which many believe (myself included) may do more harm than good.
Anyway, that's why I was so amused when I heard today that Americans have the lowest hand washing rate, based on a recent survey that studied the hand washing habits of 8,000 people in eight countries. According to the study, two-thirds of the American respondents fail to wash their hands properly even though two-thirds of them say they believe that routine hand washing is the optimal method for thwarting disease transmission.
Why the disparity? On the one hand (no pun intended), I wonder if this falls into the category of people knowing what the right thing to do is, but they don't do it for whatever reason -- maybe lack of time or habit? Even doctors reported that they don't wash their hands as well as they should.
On the other hand, my cynical side thinks that perhaps these findings are a result of the American way (or just human nature?) -- where we would rather rely on a product to combat germs instead of literally rolling up our shirtsleeves and doing it the old-fashioned way with a thorough hand washing. (By the way, only Germans had a lower incident of hand-washing, with only a quarter of respondents saying they washed their hands properly.)
So, I also should tell you that this study was sponsored by the newly formed Lysol Hygiene Council, which has mounted an initiative to increase awareness about the important role of good hygiene for preventing the spread of infections including colds, influenza, and other illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Council members include experts in virology, microbiology, and infectious disease.
Even if this could be a veiled PR attempt to end up selling more Lysol sanitizing products, I still think the study sends an important message (wash your hands for good hygiene and health!) and had interesting findings -- like the fact that respondents didn't know they can pick up more germs at home than in most public places.
So, what's the germ-beating formula? The best thing to do is to wash your hands frequently, using soap and clean running water, rubbing your hands together for 20 seconds -- the length of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday." And if you don't have access to soap and water, then alcohol-based sanitizing products (of course!) will do.