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A Whole Lot of Us are Big Fat Liars with Biohazardous Hands

March 27, 2009

Here are some scary numbers that don’t have anything to do with the stimulus package or foreclosure rates:

  • According to, even though up to 97% of people say they wash their hands after using the restroom, only about 75% (more women than men, by the way) actually do; one study (the American Society of Microbiology) put the number as low as 58% (that would be you, guys).
  • Data gathered by the MN Dept of Health over a period of three years at several different events showed females washed their hands after going to the bathroom anywhere from 64% to 75% of the time; males washed theirs anywhere from 30% (no, that’s not a typo) to 51%.
  • The AMS stats also show that 50% of middle and high school students say they wash their hands after using the restroom.  Brace yourself, parents:  of these, only 33% of the girls and 8% of the boys actually used soap.

Based on the above numbers, it’s not too surprising to learn that proper handwashing could eliminate close to half of all foodborne illness cases (U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition).  According to a recent CDCP study of 305 schoolchildren, kids who washed their hands four times a day had 24% fewer sick days due to respiratory illness, and 51% fewer sick days due to stomach ailments. 

Washing with soap and hot water (for at least 20 seconds) is the best way to get rid of bacteria and germs on our hands.  If neither are available, hand sanitizers do a great job, too.  The FDA recommends a concentration of 60% to 90% ethanol or isopropanol for alcohol-based sanitizers.  Check the label, as some discount brands don’t have a high enough percentage of alcohol to actually be effective.  The caveat here is that, due to the high concentration of alcohol, you must keep hand sanitizers out of the reach of kids small enough to think tasting it might be interesting.

Personally I have a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse at all times, and I also keep one in my glovebox.  I’m not shy about using it when our family is out and about, but I do worry sometimes that I could be creating a germophobe mentality for my kids (stay tuned for my next post for more details). 

We all know we should wash our hands.  We all try to instill the habit in our children.  But for some reason, at least in my house, this is infinitely more difficult than it should be.  Apparently, telling my kids to wash their hands is akin to insisting they recite the entire Newark, NJ phonebook by memory while performing an interpretive tap dance.  I get the eyeball roll.  The slumped shoulders and heavily exaggerated sigh of exasperation.  And more often than not, I get the bald-faced lie:  “I just did!”  [Totally superfluous sidenote:  My Grammy always insisted she had once found the name “Farquahr Muckinfuss” in a New Jersey phone book,  much to her grandchildren’s  awe and delight.] 

After digging up these numbers, you can be sure I’ll be a lot more vigilant.

Don’t forget to check my Links page for more statistics and helpful information.


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