You may want to think twice before shaking someone’s hand, opening a publicly used door, using a hotel room remote, or even an ATM machine. Anything routinely touched by the hands of a large group of people, and not kept fastidiously sterilized has the potential of being rife with bacteria.
A recent study, based on Michigan State University researchers’ observations of more than 3,700 people in a college town’s public restrooms, found that only five percent of people washed their hands after using the bathroom long enough to kill germs that cause infections–which is 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill germs, the Centers for Disease Control says, but people only wash their hands for an average of about 6 seconds.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Environmental Health.
Thirty-three percent didn’t use soap, and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all, according to the study,
“These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” lead investigator Carl Borchgrevink, an associate professor of hospitality business, said in a university news release.
The study goes on to say, that fifteen percent of men n didn’t wash their hands at all, and when they did, only 50 percent used soap, compared with 78 percent of women.
People were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty and more likely to wash their hands earlier in the day. The researchers suggested this may be because when people are out at night for a meal or drinks, they are relaxed and hand washing becomes less important.
According to the U.S. CDC and Prevention, hand washing is the single most effective thing a person can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases Failure to sufficiently wash hands contributes to nearly 50 percent of all food borne illness outbreaks, the agency says.
The findings have implications for consumers and restaurant and hotel owners, says Borchgrevink.
“Imagine you’re a business owner and people come to your establishment and get food borne illness through the fecal-oral route — because people didn’t wash their hands — and then your reputation is on the line,” he said. “You could lose your business.”