The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) conducted an observational study that revealed that slightly over three-quarters of men and women (77percent) washed their hands in public restrooms. The result was a six percent decline from a similar study conducted in 2005.
And 92 percent of adults say they wash their hands in public restrooms, according to a separate telephone survey. The results were released during the annual observance of National Clean Hands Week.
Harris Interactive, on behalf of ASM and SDA, observed the behaviour of 6,076 adults in public restrooms and recorded whether or not they washed their hands.
The research was conducted in four cities and at six different locations: Atlanta (Turner Field), Chicago (Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium), New York City (Grand Central Station, Penn Station), and San Francisco (Ferry Terminal Farmers Market). These are the same locations used in the 2005 ASM/SDA study.
The research showed that women are much better at publicly washing their hands than male: 88 percent of the women compared to just 66 percent of the guys. Compared to 2005, that's a two percent drop-off for the ladies. Men really slacked off - 75 percent were observed washing their hands two years ago.
"A Gender difference aside, hand hygiene is a serious matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the single most important thing we can all do to keep from getting infectious diseases and spreading them to others is to clean our hands," ASM spokesperson Dr. Judy Daly, the Director of the Microbiology Laboratories at the Primary Children's Medical Center atSalt Lake City, said.
"There's no doubt about it - we need to do a better job of washing with soap and water. Getting beyond the grossness factor here, we need to be smarter about our health and take the 20 seconds to lather up. And if soap and water aren't available, reach for the hand sanitizer or the hand wipes," Brian Sansoni, SDA Vice President of Communication said.
Chicago came out on top when it came to hand washing: 81 percent lathered up. New York turned out to be the "second city", with 79 percent washing up, followed by Atlanta (75 percent) and San Francisco (73 percent).
When it comes to hand washing at sporting events, men really strike out. Only 57 percent of the guys were observed washing their hands at Turner Field in Atlanta (the lowest figure at any of the locales). On the other hand, women hit a home run: 95 percent were observed cleaning their hands (the highest percentage observed in 2007).
Chicago's Shedd Aquarium had the cleanest men because of water availability (81 percent observed hand washing). This equals the lowest percentage observed among women - also at Shedd Aquarium.
Americans' self-reported hygiene behaviour in 2007 remains consistent with what past surveys show. Among 1,001 men and women interviewed via telephone in 2007, 92 percent say they always wash their hands after going to a public restroom and 86 percent say they do likewise after using the bathroom in the home. In 2005, those figures were 91 percent and 83 percent, respectively.
Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say they always wash their hands after changing a diaper (same as two years ago). Seventy-eight percent say they always hand wash before handling or eating food (compared to 77 percent in 2005).
Only one-third (34 percent) of respondents say they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing (up from 32 percent in 2005). "Many cases of colds, flu, and foodborne illness are spread by unclean hands, and these diseases are responsible for billions of dollars each year in health care expenditures and productivity losses in the United States. Worldwide, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of illness and death," Dr. Daly said.
"We need to remember the common sense times to clean our hands. For example: after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing into our hands, before food preparation and when we eat, after changing diapers, after petting your dog or cat, and after taking out the trash," said SDA's Sansoni.