93% of women wash their hands vs. 77% of men

September 15th, 2010 by Staff

Source: USA Today — Maybe all those public service announcements about the bird flu helped. An observational study done last month found that 85% of adults washed their hands in public restrooms, the highest number since the studies began in 1996.

But it’s a far cry from the 96% of adults who say they always wash their hands in public restrooms, based on a separate telephone survey conducted at the same time.

Men do a lot worse than women overall — just 77% scrubbed up, compared with 93% of women. But both numbers are up. The last time the survey was done, in 2007, only 66% of men washed, and 88% of women.

The study was sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute (formerly the Soap and Detergent Association). It involved discreetly observing 6,028 adults in public restrooms in August to see whether they washed their hands.

Researchers staked out six locations in four cities: Atlanta (Turner Field), Chicago (Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium), New York (Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station), and San Francisco (Ferry Terminal Farmers Market). The results were announced at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

“We are really pleased to see these results, which suggest that our campaign is being effective,” Judy Daly, director of clinical microbiology at Children’s Primary Medical Center in Salt Lake City, said in a release.

“Our first observational study in 1996 found only 68% overall washing up in public restrooms, and that declined to an all-time low of 67% when we repeated the study in 2000. We hope that as a result of an increased focus on hand washing in the media over these years, as well as increased public awareness of infectious disease risks, behavior really is changing.”

San Francisco and Chicago took first place in bathroom cleanliness, with 89% of adults soaping up. Next came Atlanta with 82% and New York with 79%.

Hand washing is important especially because “we now know that many respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses are transmitted primarily by hand contact when contaminated hands touch the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth,” Daly says.

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