MONDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) — More Americans than ever wash their hands after using public restrooms, but men remain far less conscientious than women about this important hygienic habit, finds a new study.
Researchers observed 6,028 adults in public restrooms across the country in August 2010 and found that 85 percent of them washed their hands, compared with 77 percent in 2007.
The new figure is the highest level seen since these studies began in 1996, said the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the American Cleaning Institute.
About 77 percent of men washed their hands after using public restrooms, compared with 66 percent in 2007. Among women, the rate improved from 88 percent in 2007 to 93 percent in 2010.
The observational study was conducted at six locations in four cities where two previous studies were conducted: 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).
The biggest difference in hand washing between men and women was noted at Turner Field — 65 percent for men and 98 percent for women. Among all the venues in the study, that was the lowest rate for men and the highest rate for women.
Overall, Chicago and San Francisco had the highest hand washing rate (89 percent), followed by Atlanta (82 percent) and New York City (79 percent). The venue with the highest overall rate was Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (93 percent).
The study findings were scheduled for presentation Sept. 13 at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Boston.
“We are really pleased to see these results, which suggest that our campaign is being effective,” Dr. Judy Daly, an American Society for Microbiology spokesperson and director of clinical microbiology at Children’s Primary Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said in an ASM news release.
A separate telephone survey of 1,006 American adults found that 96 percent said they always wash their hands in public restrooms, a rate that’s remained relatively the same for years.
The phone poll also found that 89 percent of respondents said they always wash their hands after using the bathroom at home and 82 percent always do so after changing a diaper, up from 73 percent in 2007. Women are more likely than men to wash their hands after changing a diaper — 88 percent versus 80 percent.
Overall, 77 percent of respondents said they always clean their hands before eating. Once again, women were more likely to do so than men — 83 percent versus 71 percent.
Only 39 percent of the survey participants said they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.
“Although we are happy about the latest results, there is still work to do,” Daly said. “Only a minority indicate they wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. Hand washing in this context is particularly important because we now know that many respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses are transmitted primarily by hand contact when contaminated hands touch the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducts a national hand-washing campaign, recommends that people use soap and warm water, rub their hands together for at least 20 seconds and, if possible, to use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.