Handwashing: Why are the British public so bad at washing their hands?


New research suggests that faecal matter can be found on just over a quarter of the UK population’s hands. In some cases the quantity of germs found is equivalent to the number in a dirty toilet bowl.

Research undertaken by hygiene experts from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) stated that faecal bacteria are present on 26% of hands in the UK, 14% of banknotes and 10% of credit cards and one in six mobile phones. There are about one billion germs per gram in faecal matter. Even the smallest amount can leave millions of germs on your hands that are potentially quite dangerous, and live for several hours.

The research was led by Dr Ron Cutler from QMUL who said ‘People may claim they wash their hands regularly but the science shows otherwise. People in the UK are worried about infections – we know that – but often they don’t associate dirty hands with infections until they actually get ill. It’s rather bizarre; they think their hands are clean.’

In another recent UK-wide study, 99% of people interviewed at motorway service stations toilets claimed they had washed their hands after going to the toilet. Electronic recording devices revealed only 32% of men and 64% of women actually did.

The United Nations says washing hands is the most cost-effective intervention for the worldwide control of diseases. It estimates that hand washing could save more than a million lives a year from diarrhoeal and respiratory infections which are the biggest causes of child mortality in developing countries.

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