Do You Wash Your Hands Properly? One Study Suggests No

Are you sick of getting sick while traveling?

There are few scenarios which are more physically uncomfortable than having to travel while fighting a cold or suffering from an attack by a virus. Having to deal with the change in air pressure as the aircraft changes altitude during a flight while your sinuses are clogged can be sheer torture for some people. Needing to suddenly use the lavatory while seated in a window seat on a crowded airplane which is flying below 10,000 feet is bad enough under normal circumstances — but when the need arises as the result of an attack on you by a virus, it can feel like the closest thing to pure agony.

Fortunately, those scenarios are indeed preventable — and I am living proof of that, as I will explain later.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, washing hands with soap and water is the most effective method of reducing the number of germs on them — and yet, a study recently released by The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University reveals that most Americans do not wash their hands properly.

Unfortunately, this is not solely an American phenomenon. While seated on a Boeing 777 aircraft which operated as British Airways flight 154 from Cairo to London last year, FlyerTalk member Phil the Flyer estimated that up to 80 percent of the occupants of a nearby lavatory opened the door to exit that lavatory immediately after flushing the toilet — suggesting that those passengers did not wash their hands.

The statistic is actually worse, according to the aforementioned study, which suggests that as many as 94.7 percent of the 3,739 people who participated in the study either did not properly wash their hands — meaning they washed for six or fewer seconds — or did not wash their hands at all.

Here is a video clip from the Today show on NBC pertaining to the findings of the study:

Fortunately, the sanitary habits of other people — if they even practice sanitary habits — have much less of a chance to affect you or matter to you if you take the proper precautions, which are rather simple to follow and can easily develop into a habit, as they have for me. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the recommendations for properly washing your hands — and when to do so:

CDC Video Player.  Flash Player 9 is required.CDC Video Player.Flash Player 9 is required.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food — here is an article I posted at The Gate four years ago about a woman who sneezes while preparing food but does not wash her hands before fulfilling the order

    Photograph ©istockphoto.com by snokid.

  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

What is the proper way to wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean running water — warm or cold, although I prefer warm to hot — and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

 

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but keep in mind that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Also, it is probably not a good idea to eat foods that you intend to eat with your hands without using an eating utensil — such as a fork — immediately after using a hand sanitizer, as there is a slight risk of ingesting the ethyl alcohol from the hand sanitizer. This precaution especially applies to young children, according to an article by Sanjay Gupta, who is the chief medical correspondent at CNN.

You may want to consider washing your hands before passing through an airport security checkpoint — but ensure that you thoroughly rinse off the soap you used, as the glycerine found in soap and hand lotion could possibly set off the scanner device.

Here are some other interesting findings from the study:

  • Only approximately 50 percent of men used soap and 15 percent did not wash their hands at all.
  • Approximately 78 percent of women used soap and 7 percent of women did not wash their hands at all.
  • People were less likely to wash their hands when faced with a dirty sink; whereas a clean sink increased the length of time spent hand washing.
  • People were more likely to wash their hands earlier in the day.
  • People were more likely to wash their hands if there was a sign encouraging them to do so.

 

Would a hotel guest wash his or her hands fewer times if less soap was provided in the hotel room due to initiatives supposedly designed to save the environment — and save money in the process?

As I alluded earlier, I can vouch for the importance of properly washing your hands. I offered the following advice from an article posted here at The Gate on April 4, 2013 pertaining to a new strain of bird flu virus:

  • Perhaps I may be obsessive, but I always wash my hands when I touch someone or something about which I am uncertain as to whether or not it — or he or she — is clean. The extra time spent washing your hands can save you from much more down time while suffering from less than good health. That is an investment of my time on which I receive an excellent return.
  • Someone once commented to me upon observing me that I wash my hands similar to a doctor. This means washing every part of my hands in warm water from the wrists to the fingertips and scraping underneath each fingernail thoroughly for at least 30 seconds — long after a lather of suds has been built up on my hands.
  • Before I begin washing, I use a paper towel to turn on the faucet, pump the soap and turn off the faucet when I am done, as well as open the door to exit so that I do not come into contact with germs and contaminate myself — and, contrary to popular belief, it does not matter whether or not the soap is of the antibacterial variety.
  • If the soap is a solid bar rather than in liquid form, I wash the exterior of the soap several times before I use it to wash myself.
  • I tend to occasionally rub my eyes, which could potentially be a recipe for disaster if my hands are contaminated. However, once I touch something unknown to be contaminated, I will either hold off on rubbing my eyes or employ a portion of my body to do so instead — such as the back of one of my fingers, or my arm.
  • Because the hands are the most likely body parts to be contaminated by germs — other than bare feet, that is — they require more care than other parts of your body, such as your forehead, your neck or your face. However, those body parts should be clean as well. Especially keep contamination away from your eyes, ears and nose, as they are amongst the most susceptible parts of your body to microorganisms which cause infections and illnesses.

 

Washing your hands regularly is amongst the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases, infections, and even illnesses such as the common cold. I speak from experience: with one or two minor exceptions that are too negligible to even mention, I have not suffered from a cold, fever or other illness in several years since I adopted the aforementioned habits in order to avoid getting sick or catching an illness. I have never even had a flu shot. That is because I am diligent about washing my hands.

Some people might suggest that I have tendencies towards being obsessive and compulsive when it comes to washing my hands. Others might conclude that my results might be psychosomatic in nature.

Does it really matter what people think about me pertaining to washing my hands?

All I know is that it works for me — and it can work for you as well if you are diligent about washing your hands properly to increase your chances of avoiding illnesses in the future.

Comments (Showing 6 of 6)

  • sdsearch at 6:10pm July 05, 2013

    But what do you AFTER washing your hands? Touch that handle on the door leading out of the rest room or airline toilet! POOF! You just DEFEATED THE PURPOSE OF WASHING YOUR HANDS.. You just picked up the germs that someone who did not wash their hands before you deposited on that handle!

    So unless you are going to always use a paper towel (or something else other than washing your hands) to exit out of the rest room or airline toilet, WHAT’S THE POINT???

    • Brian Cohen at 7:30pm July 05, 2013

      That depends — if the door pushes out, I simply turn around and push the door with my body. If the door is to be pulled in order to exit, I use a paper towel.
      I am finding that more public toilets have a waste receptacle located next to the door which you must pull before leaving the washroom for people like me to properly dispose of that paper towel used to pull on the handles of those doors.
      By the way, I always change my clothes when I arrive at my home.

  • VK1 at 7:49pm July 05, 2013

    …so, use a paper towel to open the door. 😛 Are you being sarcastic or are you really that indignant?

    • Brian Cohen at 8:48pm July 05, 2013

      Neither — I really do use a paper towel to open a door when leaving a public washroom and have been doing so for years.
      It works for me…

  • It'sHip2B^2 at 9:06pm July 05, 2013

    It’s important to use a dry paper towel to open the door as capillary action can actually pull some of the germs through your protective paper towel barrier thus recontaminating your hands.

    I’m glad that someone else is a “crazy” as I am. Although, no amount of hand washing kept me well when I was a college professor — even after I instituted my 1 week quarantine of student papers before I’d grade them. I even did crazy things like disinfecting my laptop, cell phone, keys, etc as soon as I got home from work. I also wouldn’t let my school bag be anywhere but in a particular closet in the home. I even changed my clothes as soon as I got home. Sometimes you just can’t avoid the illnesses no matter how extreme your measures. You can battle one sicky in the area but not twelve….

  • flyingill at 4:03am July 06, 2013

    I understand your obsession. I am a teacher in Chicago. I wash my hands while out the door so that there are no germs from my hands in my car. I think it works as I am often not the one sick at school. I also clean off our table in our office every morning and sometimes clean the door handles. I also wash my hands before eating. I often have students clean off their desk with cleaner also.
    It disgusts me that our society doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. However, I know that our students also have poor hand washing skills. Though after a while having students clean off their desks, they now ask to do it weekly as they realize that they like working in a clean environment. They are also less likely to write on the desks when they themselves have cleaned it.

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