One in four British commuters don’t wash hands after toilet use

October 15th, 2008 - 12:17 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 15 (IANS) Many Britons don’t wash their hands properly after a visit to the washroom, the latest hygiene survey reveals.The unsanitary statistics come on the very day, Wednesday, which is observed as Global Hand-washing Day to coincide with 2008 being the UN International Year of Sanitation.

Ironically, the Day is meant to promote clean hands to ward off infections, specifically in developing countries.

The Global Had-Washing Day website says its “guiding vision” is “a local and global culture of hand-washing with soap. Although people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at the critical occasions”.

Truer words were never uploaded, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which undertook the survey on Britons’ hand-washing habits, would say.

Researchers approached 409 commuters waiting at bus stops outside major train stations in five British cities. Swabs of their hands were sent back to a laboratory, where any bacteria on them were grown and identified.

Some may say the sampling is small, but the results are big on surprise.

Overall, 28 percent of people who agreed to a swab tested positive for faecal bacteria, such as Enterococcus, E coli, Klebsiella and Panteoa, according to The Guardian. The types of bacteria rarely cause serious infections, but their presence has alarmed scientists none the less.

Among men, the percentage of the unclean fell with latitude, from north to south, with 34 percent of Liverpudlian men testing positive for faecal bacteria, 21 percent in Birmingham, 15 percent in Cardiff and six percent in London.

The study, which is preliminary and yet to be published, finds that female hygiene is more consistent than that of males. On average, 27 percent of women had faecal bacteria on their hands, with Londoners again the cleanest at 21 percent and Liverpudlians the dirtiest at 31 percent.

The study finds that people who used the bus were nearly twice as likely to test positive for faecal bacteria than train commuters. Bacteria can live for two to three hours on surfaces after being touched by a contaminated hand.

Val Curtis, director of the school’s hygiene centre, says: “I was expecting to find around five to 10 percent of people with faecal bacteria on their hands, so I was flabbergasted at the number. It means people aren’t washing their hands after using the toilet, that they are contaminated and leave their bugs on surfaces where other people pick them up.”

Mike Catchpole, director of the Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Infections (HPA), says: “Hand washing is one of the most important ways of controlling the spread of infections, especially those that cause diarrhoea and vomiting, colds and flu.”

Figures with HPA suggest that cases of norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, are rising and that the annual norovirus season is likely to have begun already. The norovirus is the most common cause of gastrointestinal disease in the Britain, with the number of cases peaking between October and March. Between 600,000 and a million people in Britain are affected each year.

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