Doesn't Anybody Wash Their Hands Anymore?
City-by-city differences became apparent. After using public bathrooms, 83% of Chicago residents washed while only 49% of New Yorkers washed. Atlanta men were the worst group -- only 36% washed before leaving the restroom.
The difference between men and women holds up when people are asked whether they always wash their hands in the following situations:
- After using the bathroom at home (90% of women vs. 81% of men)
- After changing a diaper (86% of women vs. 70% of men)
- Before handling or eating food (84% of women vs. 69% of men)
- After petting a dog or cat (54% of women vs. 36% of men)
- After coughing or sneezing (40% of women vs. 22% of men)
- After handling money (28% of women vs. 12% of men)
Interestingly, people with incomes of $35,000 or less and those with a high-school education or less are more likely than wealthier and better-educated people to say they always wash their hands in these situations.
It may actually be easier to wash one's hands than most people think. "If you have good handwashing technique, antimicrobial soap is not necessary," Gerberding says. "The goal is to physically remove germs and flush them down the drain, not to kill them."
To do this in a public restroom requires several steps -- performed in the correct order. Here's the drill:
- Get a paper towel first, and place it within reach of the sink.
- Turn on the water and put soap on your hands. Rub them together for 15 seconds -- as long as it takes to say the ABCs.
- Rinse thoroughly -- this is very important.
- Use the towel to turn off the faucet.
- Get another towel and dry your hands -- and use it to open the door on the way out so you don't have to touch the door handle. If the bathroom has an air blower, hit the button with your elbow, not your hand.
This time, the ASM is asking all doctors to join in the public education effort. "We are really asking for a major behavioral change," Gerberding says. "To get a sustained change over time, you have to change the whole culture. We know it takes a long, sustained effort to do this."