Millions of Americans routinely ignore one of Mom’s most important pieces of advice: Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.
This unsettling item of news was gathered in the only way possible - by actually watching what people do (or don’t do) in public restrooms.
The researchers - if that’s what they should be called - hid in stalls or pretended to comb their hair while observing 6,333 men and women five cities last month.
“Hand washing in this country has become all but a lost art,” said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, the Minnesota state epidemiologist.
Osterholm heads the public health committee of the American Society for Microbiology, which sponsored the survey with Bayer Corp. The figures were gathered by Wirthlin Worldwide, a survey firm, and released Monday at the society’s annual infectious-disease conference.
Among the results:
The country’s dirtiest hands may be in New York City. Just 60 percent of those using restrooms in Penn Station washed up afterward.
Chicago hands, relatively speaking, are reasonably clean. The watchers saw 78 percent take the time to wash after using the bathroom at the Navy Pier.
Seventy-one percent washed up at a casino in New Orleans, 69 percent at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and 64 percent at a Braves game in Atlanta.
Women are cleaner than men. The survey found 74 percent wash after using the toilet, compared with 61 percent of men. Only in New York and New Orleans did men use soap and water slightly more often than women.
The most slovenly men observed were at the Braves game. Just 46 percent of the guys stopped to wash, compared with 89 percent of women.
Dirty hands are an extremely common means of spreading diseases, ranging from colds to illnesses that cause diarrhea and other intestinal problems. In restaurants, one food handler with dirty hands can make dozens of patrons sick.
People probably know better. Wirthlin also did a telephone survey last month of what people had to say about their hand-washing habits. Of 1,004 adults, 94 percent claimed they always wash up after using restrooms.
Actually, Mother’s advice may be part of the problem. “Moms often today are not telling their kids to wash their hands,” said Dr. Gail Cassell of the University of Alabama.