Dirty Hands, please…. !
By Maxwell Pereira
about fads! And of public health awareness! The latest in the
line is a survey cum study commissioned by the American Society
of Microbiologists (ASM) on people’s behaviour after a visit
to washrooms or public toilets. “Most people say they wash
their hands after using the bathroom, but many of them are not
telling the truth” – the study suggested. More importantly,
the survey found that women were more diligent than men: 90 percent
washed their hands, compared with only 75 percent of the men.
a nationwide poll conducted this year in the USA between Aug.19
to Aug.23 by Harris Interactive, 1013 adults were interviewed
about their hand washing habits after a visit to the toilet. Then
observers were sent into public restrooms to see what actually
happened. A female TV anchor presenting this report on the channel
I watched, quipped she couldn’t help wondering what exactly
the observers were observing, and how, in public toilets!
coming to the point, ninety-one percent of adults had claimed
in the poll that they washed their hands after using a public
restroom. But of the 6,336 adults whose behaviour was observed,
only 82 percent actually did so. People were not as conscientious
as they say they were, the researchers demonstrated, comparing
answers given in the telephone poll to observed behaviour.
study has not been able to explain why though, and what accounted
for the difference in male and female behaviour. Why men are so
much less likely to wash than women! Probably because people who
use urinals do not think they need to wash their hands? Much to
the embarrassment of her male co-anchor, the same female TV anchor
I watched did not flinch while declaring, “Why should it
be so? It is men who have something to hold while using the urinal,
not so the women!” Public officials, however, felt that
the overall message is that most Americans do wash their hands
after using the bathroom; though, “we still have a long
way to go!”
for the study were made at restrooms in six different locations.
Only 74 percent of baseball fans at Turner Field in Atlanta washed
up, an even lower percentage than the 79 percent among commuters
at Penn Station in New York. With 88 percent of those using public
bathrooms at the local Farmers’ Market, San Franciscans
were found more hygienic, but those at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
with 89 percent were found more sanitary.
telephone poll asked about hand washing habits in other situations
as well. Fewer than half the adults said they always washed after
touching pets, sneezing, coughing, or handling money. Washing
hands after changing a baby’s diaper is also not a universal
habit, as the study found only 64 percent of men and 82 percent
of women reporting they did so. While most people wash up before
handling food, there still were 23 percent of adults who said
they regularly handled food without first washing.
education and income level did have something to do with washing
practices, it was not clear exactly what the difference meant.
More people in the lesser income level said they washed their
hands after handling money, than those with higher incomes who
considered money not dirty enough to require washing after touching
it. Takes me back to my childhood, when among the many taboos
our growing up was saddled with, touching money was one too; for
reasons more than one – mainly, because money was touched
by lepers and beggars with diseases. A dettol wash was a must
for touching money even inadvertently! Perhaps the presence of
more money around in adulthood removed this phobia, but to what
extent education has affected, I am not sure.
T. Osterholm, chairman of the public health committee of the ASM
has been quoted in the media saying, “It’s not about
education, it is about hygiene education. We have a problem at
hospitals with doctors and nurses who don’t wash their hands
after attending to a patient. You can’t get more educated
for an American multi-national as a senior executive with plenty
of public dealing, my daughter tells me how paranoid she is at
having to shake hands with all and sundry in the course of routine
work. No ‘namaste’ would do, as we Indians would want
to. A firm man’s handshake it is… And so the anti-germ
treatment to the rescue. Every half hour or so, she squeezes a
bottle of disinfectant lotion on to her hands, placed conveniently
around the work place. “So annoying, but can’t help
it,” she confides!
this makes me wonder, in the Indian context: India is one large
public toilet, and what Indians need is toilet-training –
someone had wisely observed! To cap it, with a toilet so large
and extending through the length and breadth of the country, I
wonder what the findings be if ever a similar study is conducted
in India. Where would we fare against the 82 percent in America
who washed hands after a visit to the toilet? Will the answer,
“we wash, they wipe!” do?
scene from Dev Benegal’s filmi version of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s
“English, August” comes to mind: The young IAS officer
on his first field posting to rural Madna patiently watches the
taluk official he is to call on finish urinating with a healthy
shake of his you know what – and understandably hesitates
to take the same hand the official extends in greeting him; and
worse, soon the official insists on the officer partaking from
the cup of tea he so generously offers, with the same hands!
29, 2005: 900 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23,
Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and email@example.com
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