The importance of hand washing should never be under estimated. I wondered how many people picked up on it following Global Handwashing Day and was interested to see some feedback from the UK public.
Are we worried about hygiene?
It would seem we are, especially when visiting, and leaving, a public toilet. Some ingenious if rather ingenuous tactics are adopted by some people to avoid touching doors in the loo and on leaving. However, it’s all very well making sure you use a piece of toilet paper to hold the door handle, or wait until someone enters the toilet area to hold the door open for you, or failing that, keeping the door open with your foot and or elbow. But if, for instance in a pub, you go straight to the bar and eat a few peanuts from a bowl, just how many people have also taken some peanuts and did they wash their hands … Apparently e.coli has been found on nuts, crisps, even olives in open bowls on bars.
And what about cash machine keys, card readers in supermarkets, keyboards on computers, hand rails on buses and the Underground, the list goes on. You could say a ha’peth of dirt doesn’t do anyone any harm, but it isn’t just any old dirt we’re talking about. We’re concerned about campylobacter and salmonella bacteria both likely to cause a gastric infection and easily passed on through fecal contamination.
When out and about some people take a small container of antiseptic gel. It is a token gesture towards hygiene as it is not entirely effective. So it’s always wise to wash your hands before you get to eat anything. That’s a great restraint on your appetite – you would be off to wash your hands before you ate that luscious cake, cup of coffee and biscuit in the coffee shop of even the irresistible chocolate bar at the checkout! You would have to wait until you got home to wash your hands after touching the keypad in the supermarket and the trolley or basket handle!
Hand washing techniques
John Oxford professor of virology thinks people don’t wash thoroughly, or long, enough – singing two verses of Happy Birthday – to yourself – is a good guideline. Just rinsing your hands under water won’t wash the germs away. They need soap to slide off your skin.
And it isn’t just after visiting the toilet. It is important to wash your hands if you have been handling raw meat and poultry.
Increasingly public toilets have devices to avoid hands touching infected areas. For instance taps that operate when you waving your hand in front of a sensor, another sensor dispenses soap. The new blow driers from Dyson are becoming more common, so are ultraviolet light hand cleaners.
Did you know copper door handles kills MRSA?
Whether or not a recent study suggesting one in six mobile phones contaminated with fecal matter is statistically anomalous, the findings were interesting. Does it mean people use their phones in the loo? It wouldn’t surprise me. I remember a student who had been on work experience had transcribed an audio tape in which she distinctly heard the dictator using the loo. Luckily it was of the watery kind … Her experience had us in stitches!
So, while diarrhoeal disease remains one of the world’s biggest killers in developing countries and handwashing saves lives, here it will help prevent a nasty stomach bug. In the UK it is more likely that children pass on stomach bugs. They have a habit of constantly putting their hands in their mouth, and love to handle pets and all that entails.
Did you know there are wipes available that kill 99% of harmful bacteria?
The Global Handwashing Day website has a lot of very interesting statistics and background information.
So should we really be worried about hygiene? The consensus is yes, but keep it in proportion. Do you agree?
Val Reynolds, Editor