Hand-washing Is Still the Best Way to Prevent Illness

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With the recent outbreak of the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus and now with seasonal flu just beginning to appear, hand-washing is still considered to be one of the most effective means of preventing the spread of disease. Strangely enough, how a simple act of washing our hands for 20 seconds with good ol’ soap and water can do wonders to keep us all healthy.

Having recently spent some time in the hospital with my Dad after his hip replacement surgery, the one common denominator on all patients’ doors was the sign encouraging hand-washing by every person entering and leaving the room. If you preferred not to wash your hands, anti-septic foam dispensers were found just inside the door. These dispensers are commonplace in many doctor’s offices these days, as well as retirement homes. Have you noticed too, that retail stores, banks, and even some fast food restaurants have resorted to keeping a bottle of alcohol based gel on the counter?

Hand-washing is a win-win situation for everyone. Not only does it help you from getting sick, but it may help prevent others from getting sick from you. Studies have revealed that the simple act of washing hands can literally save millions of lives, not only in hospitals, but the food industry and schools were germs are found everywhere.

A survey conducted in 2007 by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) showed 77% of those using public restrooms actually washed their hands, however, this figure is a drop from 83% compliance only two years earlier.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in October 2009, British researchers studied the hand-washing behavior of almost 200,000 people using a service station restroom over the course of 32 days in the summer of 2008. The study revealed that both men and women were more likely to wash their hands with both soap and water after using the restroom if they believed they were being observed by other people.

Researchers placed an electronic sign in each restroom with various messages promoting hand-washing to see which message elicited the greatest use of soap with hand-washing for both men and women. The one message that led to the greatest compliance read, "Is the person next to you washing with soap?" Researchers concluded that when people believe they are being watched, they are more likely to wash with soap and water than skip the process.

Do you pay attention to what others do in the restroom? Do notice if they use soap and water? How do you feel when others don’t wash their hands after using the restroom?

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I wash my hands every chance I get. I also keep a hand sanitizer at my desk because I deal with a lot of clients and their papers each day. Report
washing my hands is a priority wherever I am. Encourage others to wash their hand too every chance I get. Most do not take it as an insult but thank me. Try it the next time you see someone in the restroom and about to leave without washing you might get a pleasant surprise or you may not so use you own judgement. Live one day at a time. Report


Watch those door handles {{{{{ Disgusting }}}}

I use a paper towel to open that door ~~if you don't you might as well not washed your hands . YIKES
I notice people who don't wash after using the restroom I find it disgusting and I have co-workers who are the same way! I keep hand sanitizer in my purse and Clorox wipes at my desk to wipe the "shared cell phone we use" and the fax machine buttons. All my grandsons were taught to wash their hands in the restroom, although their fathers don't because their mom's never made them wash their hands. I just think you need to be cautious and keep yourself as healthy as you can. Report
Washing hands in some restrooms is grosser than not! Have you looked at some of the soap dispensers? I keep my own sanitizer with me for these situations. Report
I do pay attention to the handwashing in public restroom. I also remind others in my household to wash their hands. Report
I think that washing hands is very important and always wash my hands after using the bathroom, at home or in public, no matter who is watching me. I was told that singing the happy birthday song is a good measure of how long you should wash your hands, as it takes about 20 seconds to sing it.

It bothers me somewhat when I see people in public who don't wash their hands, just run them under water, or very quickly wash them with soap, but I don't stress over it. To me it's just a personal choice to make myself healthier. Report
I try not to pay attention to what other people do and just concentrate on making sure that I practice good hygiene. What really bothers me are the restrooms that just have cold water and/or no soap in the soap dispenser. Or places or events that only have port-a-potties and no provision for hand washing. I've taken to carrying sanitizer in my purse just in case I run into that situation, but I still feel gross till I can really wash my hands. Report
I make handwashing a game with my kids. In public restrooms, we always wash our hands and sing "row row row your boat" out loud as we wash (to get the full time in). The kids love it and it has gotten other restroom-goers excited as well. One lady even started singing along with us! :)

Now if I could only get them to use a paper towel to open the door. One step at a time I guess. Report
I carry a small container of hand sanitizer in my purse at all times. While I usually do use soap and water to thoroughly wash my hands after using the restroom, sometimes I don't wash in a public restroom - especially if it is messy and there is water everywhere on the sinks and counters. On those occassions, I usually wait until I'm outside the restroom to use my hand sanitizer because I figure that the door and handle are probably just as germ-ridden as the rest of the place.

Quite honestly, I am less concerned about leaving my germs behind than I am about picking somebody else's up on the way out.

Just because you don't see a person washing his or her hands in a public restroom does not mean they aren't practicing good hygiene. Report
I use public restrooms a lot because I travel a lot and I do notice when someone leaves without washing thier hands and not only do I wash my hands in the restroom but I also use a wipe when I get to the car. Even a lot of the people who wash their hands before they leave the restrooms do not us soap or they don't really wash them just put soap on their hands and run some water over them. Report
As a nurse all I can say WASH YOUR HANDS! I can't tell you how many patients I see everyday that will use the bathroom and not wash their hands or use the hand sanitizer that we have right next to the soap dispenser.
I hate public restrooms, shopping cart handles and door handles to name a few. If people really knew what was growing on them they would freak out. Besides it being flu season you have to watch out for MRSA (a drug resistent staph). It causes horrbile skin infections and can be fatal when it gets in the blood stream. It requires weeks of antibiotic treatments and depending on where your infection is maybe some serious looking scars. This is out there in all our communities and you should protect yourself and your family. Report
I don't think I pay much attention to whether someone washes their hands in the restroom, but if I happen to notice that they don't, it really grosses me out. Report
I always wash my hands and I do notice if others do not. There are just so many germs in the bathroom, on the toilet handle alone! I am really strict about it with my kids too. Report
Always remember "friction is your friend" when handwashing and also remember that "singing" Happy Birthday (to yourself!!) ensures the minimum time necessary to remove those germs we all pick up without knowing it. Report
i agree that washing one's hands is a habit we should all follow after such things as using the restroom, before eating, etc, but i am also a practical realist...i can teach people (i do, its part of my job as an infection control nurse) to wash hands routinely, but enforcing such habits is not something within my powers nor something i desire to do, but i can encourage it as I do other basic hygienic habits...
There are multiple (millions) of opportunities for contamination where germs or other non-friendly bacteria can be transmitted, and we actually need to be exposed to some level of bacteria to build and retain immunity in many cases...so, while i urge the continuation of basic healthy habits, i do not believe in obsessive compulsive levels of hand washing, something i see in a number of posts on here...stay healthy, of course, indulge in good hygeine (please), but remember that a healthy approach all round is the primary goal, not just one routine that makes us feel "right"... Report
a healthy approach all round is the primary goal, not just one routine that makes us feel "right"...lets include hand washing as one of a battery of healthy behaviors
I too notice when people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom and as an admitted germophobe it really grosses me out. I like the idea of the "is the person next to you washing their hands?" sign...but since many don't go near the sinks on their way out, perhaps a sign saying "don't touch this door til you wash your hands" sign would be better. LOL Report
Washing hands is also important for health care workers because of MRSA. I worked in a dialysis unit as a custodian and I was always extra careful to wash my hands according to their health care worker's procedure. Report
I notice when others leave the bathroom without washing their hands. I notice mostly to remind myself to use a clean paper towel when I open the door to leave the bathroom. I have taught my kids to wash their hands before eating, and that they need to wash after using the bathroom. I recently saw a Dr. Oz show that made me encourage the kids to put the toilet lid down before flushing - the airborne feces can land anywhere up to 20 feet away, and generally we keep our toothbrushes on the sinktop which is next to the toilet! When I am in a public restroom I use my foot to flush the toilet, too.

However, I agree with those who say that (aside from hand-washing after using the bathroom) sometimes we get carried away worrying about germs. I work with a woman who sprays Lysol on everything and is OCD about germs. When she gets sick with a cold, it inevitably turns into bronchitis or a sinus infection. She is sick for weeks. I can't help but wonder if her obsession with being germ-free has reduced her immunity to them. Don't we need SOME germs to help us fight these common colds? Report
I have kind of turned into Monk, myself: I have taken to grabbing several of the wipes and after wiping the cart, I use anotehr to wipe the ledges people grab and lean over to get meats, etc and I use another wipe to clean off the checkout counters; in the bathrooms, I am the same way washing the faucet handles, wiping down the counters and washing my hand, using my elbow to dispense the towels if I can, using another to open the door on the way out....I probably look very compulsive to others but truly I am just very aware of how easily germs can be spread with the multitudes out shopping! Report
Oh yea, I am totally grossed out by the rinse and go or not washing at all. I open the door with the paper towel and if there are no paper towels I use hand sanitizer when I leave the bathroom. Report
I volunteer at a hospital, so I have taken special training on washing hands. My hospital training initially said it was important to wash with soap and water for 30 seconds, or about as long as it took to sing "Twinkle-twinkle Little Star". But the training was updated about 1.5 years ago, and the new teaching is that you should wash for 60 seconds! Still, even 20 seconds is more than I observe most others washing.

One time when I was at the airport and washing my hands, a woman came up to me while I was scrubbing, and said she was impressed with how long/well I was washing. Turns out she is a nurse at a hospital so she's well aware of how important hand-washing is.

I do wish more people would pay attention to their hand-washing. Waving their hands under running water pretty much does nothing! Report
I wash, dry and use a towel to open the door because Lord knows whats on those knobs. I carry hand sanitizer with me as well. I know it sound a little like overkill but I have an 8 yr old and so far we have done very well in the sickness department.

We worry about bathroom habits, but I was unlucky enough to be seated near a waitress station in a chain resteraunt and was completely disgusted by their behavior. Coughing and sneezing into their hands and not washing before they served people their drinks. One actually went inside of her pants and adjusted her underwear and proceeded to grab a customer order with no hand washing. Needless to say I neither ate nor drank anything and I had a chat with the manager as well. So while we can do everything within our power to keep ourselves from getting sick there is always gonna be someone like this around to get us sick anyway. Report
Great advice! I would just one other key that is important. Too often I see people wash there hands and they just wash their palms and finger tips. It is important to get in between each finger to really make sure that your hands are clean. :) Report
I just cringe when I see adults leaving a restroom without washing their hands. It is so disgusting. After I wash, I use the paper towel to open the door. If there isn't a paper towel then I use toilet paper or kleenex. Report
I strongly believe in handwashing, my mom taught me @ an early age to make sure you wash your hands before you leave the bath room, before you eat a meal and after touching anything that you feel may be contaminated by others. This lesson I have taught my kids and even today I am an obessive hand washer :) Be health conscious - Wash your hands!! Report
What happened to children being taught to wash their hands at school? When we were there we had to line up and wash our hands before going for lunch, addmittedly in 'grey' water (yuk!) if your were last in the queue! Report
I don't pay attention to what others do I just wash my own Report
I'd say over half the people who go to the bathroom do NOT wash their hands. It isn't just the bathroom that matters though! How many people have their fingers up their noses, down their britches either "adjusting" or pulling their underwear out of their butts. It happens all the time! Washing your hands is the number 1 way of avoiding sickness. If you can't get to soap and water a hand sanitizer will work provided your hands are not visably soiled. Wash wash and then wash again! (Yes I do the hand-washing orientation at my job lol) Report
We recently walked out of a restaurant because my husband saw what appeared to be the cook (then verified w/management that this was indeed the cook) leave the restroom without washing his hands. Needless to say, we won't be going back to that restaurant again! Report
The CDC suggests 15 - 20 seconds of handwashing to be effective. Warm water not hot to prevent skin breakdown. Hand Gel can be used unless visibly soiled or unless you have come into contact with body fluids of spores from things such as C-diff. Report
The CDC suggests 15 - 20 seconds of handwashing to be effective. Warm water not hot to prevent skin breakdown. Hand Gel can be used unless visibly soiled or unless you have come into contact with body fluids of spores from things such as C-diff. Report
Snap! Report
I always wash in public restrooms but must admit to skipping a few washes in more familiar environments (home / friends). I once heard that you have to wash your hands for the duration of the 'Happy birthday' song to ensure you do a proper job! Report
I am definitely NOT a clean freak, but if ever I need to use public facilities, IF I have to sit, I make sure I give the seat a very good wipe with my antiseptic gel that I carry with me, and use the gel rather than what they provide. On the odd occasions I haven't had the gel with me, I have used soap and water to give the taps a good wash first, and THEN wash my hands. I remember a programme on TV once (a documentary) and they said that if you sing the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself while you are washing your hands, that is the right length of time to be washing. AFTER my hands are washed I use paper towels, and also use a fresh paper towel to open the door to get out. There are tons of faecal bacteria on the door handles and surrounds from people who are unhygenic when they use the washrooms. I absolutely HATE it when I see people who use and leave without even attempting to wash.

THIS is also a very good reason why NOT to take one of the sweets that a lot of banks, businesses etc. have in bowls for customers. The faecal count in then is astounding! Report
YUCK!!! You can't help but notice when someone doesn't wash their hands. I have been washing my hands, using a paper towel to turn to faucet off and open the door as well as coughing into my clothes for umpteenth years. I also wear gloves at work when I'm on the computer, when I'm using the ATM machine, pumping gas, using a shopping cart and when I occasionally visit the the casino. I see too many people not washing their hands and coughing and sneezing in their hands and then touching everything. At work, word is spread in the office as to whom doesn't wash their hands so you avoid eating anything that person(s) brings for pot luck. I have been blessed to have never had the flu. I also have never received a flu shot. Report
I think it always fell disgusting if you don't wash them. I always wash my hands with soap and water after using the restroom. Report
Lorne67, if nurses are commenting on how often you wash your hands and suggesting you wash your hands too much, you should probably listen. Hand washing is great, but too much hand washing is a sign of OCD and can crack your skin, making it EASIER for germs to get in. Hope that's not the case with you!! Report
as i know, there are more germs to find at computer-keyboards then in a normal toilet.

a view weeks ago my daughter (nearly 6) and i used the toilette in our fitness club, and a girl - the same age thand my child - walked out of the room without washing hands. My daughter asked her politly (and innocent) why she did not washed her hand after using the toilet
Her mum blushed and pushed her daughter out of the room.

I am always washing my hands. I started at a young age that is one of the first things I learned in 4-H is when cooking constantly use cleanliness. Which is plenty of hand washing! I was surprised at different times I have been in the hospital over the years with health concerns that nurses have commented on how often I was washing my hands. It grosses me out when people use the restroom and don't wash their hands. I would rather have dry skin from washing my hands often than dirty hands. Report
In nursing school, we were taught to wash for 30 sec. Teach kids to sing "twinkle twinkle little star" to get their correct time in!
Linda Report
The only time I ever get sick is when my daughter or fiance is sick first. It's pretty hard to not get sick when you show a lot of affection to the ones you love.

Editing to say that children (I have a daughter in first grade) don't always have the best hygiene at school, and it doesn't matter how much I wash my own hands - it's almost guaranteed she will sneeze in my face or I will kiss her, and the problem is that people are generally contagious before you even show major symptoms. Report
this is by far one of my biggest pet peeves. i work at a law firm with prestigious attorneys and i can tell you with full confidence that even some of the most well-educated of people fail to properly wash their hands. it's absurdly disgusting and sad all the same. *stepping off my soapbox* Report
i always wash my hands and use the paper towel to open the door also. but even worse than ladies not washing their hands are the ones that leave urine on the toilet seat. there is absolutely no excuses for that. you can roll some toilet paper up and sit it there on the seat and use your foot to wipe it off and slide it into the toilet. that is what i have to do when i go in there and someone has left urine all over the seat........YUK Report
I wash and use paper towels to turn off water and on door knobs. I also carry AB wipes with me when shopping to wipe the handles on shopping carts. I also use them to clean my hands after pumping gas or touching anything that I think others have touched. Report
I do wash my hands each time prior to leaving a restroom. I have noticed others not washing their hands which really bothers me. However, my granddaughter always uses hand sanitzier after leaving the restroom so I am hoping these other people do also. I do not like touching the door handle in restrooms when leaving. I carry a tissue with me to use for those facilities that only have hand dryers. Report
Sometimes I wash my hands before and after using the restroom. I have worked in health clinics and hospitals, and was constantly amazed at how many women did not wash-up after completing their business. I still keep the paper towel I dried my hands with to open the door out of a public restroom...maybe too many microbiology classes...but it makes me feel better. Report
I always wash my hands with soap and water after using the restroom at home or anywhere else. I think it's disgusting if you don't. Report
I always wash my hands after using the restroom and I can't believe the number of people who leave the restroom without washing their hands!

I have been on immunosuppressant medications in the past so I want everyone around me to be as germ free as possible. Report