Study finds only 5 percent wash hands correctly

If you shook hands with someone today, chances are they didn’t wash their paws properly after using the bathroom, according to a study by researchers at Michigan State University.

The new study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections.

Additionally, 33 percent of people didn’t use soap, and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all, researchers found. The study was based on observations of 3,749 people in public restrooms.

“These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” said Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor of hospitality and business and lead investigator on the study.

Dr. Dale Gordineer, a family practitioner at Doctors Care Aiken Mall, said he is not surprised by the study’s findings.

“For the most part, if they don’t just walk out, they just run (their hands) under the water for a little bit,” he said. One of the most commonly spread infections due to improper hand washing is conjunctivitis, Gordineer said. That is an infection of the eye that can be easily transmitted by someone touching their eye, then a common object such as a door knob. Others could touch that door knob and then their eyes, transmitting the disease.

Upper respiratory infections are another common ailment that can stem from lack of proper hand washing, Gordineer said.

“There are diseases that are carried in stool and urine,” said Julie Kappes, a pediatric nurse practitioner for the Margaret J. Weston Community Health Center in Clearwater. “There are diseases carried in stool that, if people have it on their hands, they can contaminate door knobs, food – anything they touch.”

The “right” way to wash your hands is to wet them using clean running water (it doesn’t matter if it’s warm or cold), according to Gordineer. He cited a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rub your hands together for 40 to 60 seconds while washing them.

The study found that people are only washing their hands, on average, for about six seconds.

“Another thing that doesn’t matter is the type of soap you use,” he said. “If you’re using soap and water and a proper technique, it doesn’t matter if you use antibacterial soap or not. Antibacterial soap can lead to resistance to germs and actually cause a worsening of spread of germs in the long run.”

While rubbing your hands together, make sure you clasp your fingers and palms together; also, rub each palm to the back of the other hand, Gordineer said.

Don’t forget to scrub under your fingernails.

“One of the biggest carriers of germs is under the fingernails,” Gordineer said.

After rinsing with running water, dry with a clean towel or air dryer.

If you don’t have soap or water, waterless hand sanitizer is a good alternative. Gordineer said to make sure the solution is at least 60 percent alcohol. Additionally, hand sanitizer doesn’t carry the same risk to build resistance that antibacterial soap does, he said.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/handwashing.

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.

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