I am Italian. I am a man. I go to the bathroom. Do I always wash my hands after my morning duties? Of course I do! I am a diligent clean person! I mean, OBVIOUSLY when I just pee and I do not get pee on my hands, once in awhile I may just skip it. And sure, if I am in a rush to work, I may just rinse them quickly… but water “cleans it all”, right?
This is so, so wrong. There are 3 things we (must) know:
- Let us be honest, we do not always wash our hands after a loo job;
- When we do so, we wash them distractively, quickly, without singing Happy Birthday twice (see below);
- When we do not, we convert ourselves in disease vectors!
Let us look at some details:
- Statistics show that in Italy only 57% of people automatically wash their hands. In Spain and France, just a little over 60%claim to give their hands a thorough clean after going to the toilet and overall the truth may be much worse.
- Research shows that 95% of us don’t know how to clean our hands in a correct way. Washing your hands properly takes about as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice. Does it sound un-scientific? You may be surprised to know that this “unscientific recommendation” comes straight from the World Health Organization. And watch it: drying properly may be just as important!
- Hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. The simple act of washing hands with soap can reduce the spread of fatal diseases including E.coli (Failing to sufficiently wash one’s hands contributes to nearly 50% of all foodborne illness outbreaks!). In fact, experts confirm that if we don’t wash our hands properly, then just one bacterium can grow into thousands in a relatively short period of time. These are then spread around our environment and onto other people. A study carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine three years ago revealed that nine out of 10 mobile phones are coated with some kind of bacteria, including E.coli and MRSA!
Now, given all this, the worse thing is that our fecal matter goes places, because we touch things. According to a 2002 study published in the Southern Medical Journal, 94% of dollar bills tested by researchers had pathogens on them, including fecal matter. I mean, not necessarily our own fecal matter! We’re constantly touching other people’s poop!
So, the question is: why don’t we wash our hands? I tried to give myself an intelligent answer, but I just could not figure it out. I did find an additional reason to wash them though: Scientists have found that washing your hands frees you of taking the blame for any unhappy outcome of a difficult decision. This means that before spending money on that new car your wife does not like, or before sending your kid to college, or before saying no to your sweetheart, you can just wash your hands, contributing to the reduction of E.coli in the world and of fecal-contaminated dollar bills. This will make you feel better about yourself. Spike Lee, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found that people who wash their hands before making a hard decision become more free in their choice: “It’s not just that washing your hands contributes to moral cleanliness as well as physical cleanliness… our studies show that washing also reduces the influence of past behaviors and decisions that have no moral implications whatsoever”.
Remember Pontius Pilate? What an incentive to change our habits!
Photo credits: The best phone ever by Alex Chen under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0