The Sciences

I Wash My Hands Of You

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJul 18, 2005 1:58 AM


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Do you wash your hands after using the bathroom? No? Why the hell not? In the 1840s (the 1840s, folks, 160 years ago), Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis figured that washing hands before surgery would cut the infection rate of patients... and this was decades before germs were tagged as the cause of diseases. Our bodies harbor vast numbers of germs, and a lot of them just love to hang out in our nether regions. Here's a fun thing to know: human feces are 75% water, but of the remaining 25%, the majority is composed of live and dead bacteria. Yum! The simple act of washing your hands after getting rid of your latest quota of feces will get rid of the majority of those germs that might have made it, somehow, onto your hands. And from there to the flush handle, and to the doorknob, and to whatever else you touch for the next three hours until you wash your hands. Do you use a pencil or pen at work? Do you chew on the end sometimes, putting the pencil in your mouth, the pencil you held in your hands, after touching the doorknob, the flush handle, your fecal bacteria? I believe I have made my point. So now you decide to wash your hands. What about that guy you saw leaving the public bathroom as you went in? Good question. To answer it, Wirthlin Worldwide conducted a survey in 2003 to see what people did in airport bathrooms. The result? About 1/4 of the men and 1/6 of the women leave a bathroom without washing their hands. I have no idea if they accounted for people going in to check their makeup, to brush their teeth, etc. Still, this is an appalling statistic. We've known about the efficacy of washing our hands for 16 decades now! Sheesh. Wash your hands, folks. And use soap. Just rinsing doesn't help, and in fact it hurts-- wet hands are a great place for breeding more microscopic critters. I'll leave you with this bit from the article linked above. I was curious about how the study was done. The article says:

The survey ... observed 7,541 people in public washrooms in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, and Toronto.

No details on how this "observation" was done in the article. Yikes. The next time you see someone loitering in the bathroom at an airport with a clipboard and a hawk-like gaze, peering at people oddly and furtively as they enter and leave the bathroom... thank him.

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