I Wash My Hands Of You

By Phil Plait | July 17, 2005 9:58 pm

Do you wash your hands after using the bathroom? No? Why the hell not?

In the 1840s (the 1840s, folks, 160 years ago), Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis figured that washing hands before surgery would cut the infection rate of patients… and this was decades before germs were tagged as the cause of diseases.

Our bodies harbor vast numbers of germs, and a lot of them just love to hang out in our nether regions. Here’s a fun thing to know: human feces are 75% water, but of the remaining 25%, the majority is composed of live and dead bacteria. Yum! The simple act of washing your hands after getting rid of your latest quota of feces will get rid of the majority of those germs that might have made it, somehow, onto your hands. And from there to the flush handle, and to the doorknob, and to whatever else you touch for the next three hours until you wash your hands. Do you use a pencil or pen at work? Do you chew on the end sometimes, putting the pencil in your mouth, the pencil you held in your hands, after touching the doorknob, the flush handle, your fecal bacteria?

I believe I have made my point.

So now you decide to wash your hands. What about that guy you saw leaving the public bathroom as you went in?

Good question. To answer it, Wirthlin Worldwide conducted a survey in 2003 to see what people did in airport bathrooms. The result? About 1/4 of the men and 1/6 of the women leave a bathroom without washing their hands. I have no idea if they accounted for people going in to check their makeup, to brush their teeth, etc. Still, this is an appalling statistic. We’ve known about the efficacy of washing our hands for 16 decades now!

Sheesh. Wash your hands, folks. And use soap. Just rinsing doesn’t help, and in fact it hurts– wet hands are a great place for breeding more microscopic critters.

I’ll leave you with this bit from the article linked above. I was curious about how the study was done. The article says:

The survey … observed 7,541 people in public washrooms in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, and Toronto.

No details on how this “observation” was done in the article. Yikes. The next time you see someone loitering in the bathroom at an airport with a clipboard and a hawk-like gaze, peering at people oddly and furtively as they enter and leave the bathroom… thank him.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind

Comments (60)

  1. CR

    Thanks for illustrating one reason I dislike handshakes as a form of greeting. ICK!

  2. martinvi

    I like to add 3 points:

    1) Use hot water. It didn’t need to be boiling hot, but it should be hot.

    2) If you can’t stand that mucilaginous liquid soap in public restrooms or you’re afraid of some allergic reaction due of the heavily perfumed “public soap”: Bring your own.

    3) If you can’t stand the paper towels or the thermal drying fans (which are much worse in my eyes): Bring your own towel.

    It’s just a small plastic bag for the towel and a tiny plastic box for the soap.

  3. I need to see a serious study about how much bacteria that may have been in feces at some point is in the air we breath in an airport restroom, how much is recycled out of an hot air dryer, and how much is caked on the faucet controls, the doorknobs, the stall locks, the soap dispensers, inside the toilet paper, paper towel, and toilet cover dispensers, and generally everywhere else, especially outside the airport bathroom.

    Regardless, I wash my hands everytime I enter the bathroom- I don’t need them greasy or dirty because they aren’t cleaned periodically. I just don’t care about bacteria so much- I consider it more a fact of life.

  4. Outside observer

    I am not terribly scared of bacteria either, for two reasons. I’ve never had an illness cause by a bacterial infection, that I know of anyway. And secondly, antibiotics can deal perfectly well with most of them.

    That said, I do wash my hands, with soap after taking dump. I wash my hands periodicly through out the day anyway. Habbit.

    Didn’t penn and teller do an episode about this? I seem to recall a stripper in a thong. =D

  5. Alan

    Ever wonder how babies get the faecal coliforms into their system ?
    Ever wonder about the dilemma between not exposing your immune system to nasties and dying soon after you touch a dirty telephone (thanks Douglas Adams), and the converse like India where lots of babies die young from such nasties, but those that survive can eat almost anything.

    In short stop worrying so much about things like that – and prepare/eat your food in the bathroom which is the cleanest room in the house instead of the kitchen, which is one of the dirtiest.

    Of course you should be careful at airports where virulent diseases can be spread in a day from anywhere in the world – including one case of malaria in Western Australia from a mosquito in a plane.

  6. jgrewe

    I’m reminded of a scene from “The Aviator”, which I just watched this weekend. Howard Hughes is shown washing his hands in a restaurant bathroom (he hasn’t even used the toilet). He does it so vigorously that he cuts his hand. Then, he can’t bring himself to touch the door handle in order to leave. He lurks beside the door until someone else comes in, and sneaks out.

    I think it’s a good idea to wash after using the bathroom, but I guess it’s even worse to become too obsessive about it.

  7. daomarik

    Yes, and what’s the use washing your hands in a public toilet/restarurant/whatever if you have to put your hand on the door knob in order to open the door, and the person who touched it before you hasn’t washed his/her hands?… I’m completely paranoid about this, so I generally use a small piece of paper so that my freshly washed hand doesn’t really touch the handle. I’m serious :)

  8. and nobody gets terribly sick though, except perhaps a few cases here and there, I think. Bacteria are part of our life, there are some quite nasty out there than can be a real bother, but in general our current sanitary standards, that include 25% of people not wahsing their hands, still makes us healthier than our ancestors 160 years ago. Of course modern medicine, antbiotics, vaccines and many other weapons help a lot.

    So wash your hands but don’t get crazy about it, others don’t do it and you will end up opening a door with a door knob full of little creatures that came from very dark places hehehe….

  9. RPM

    Watch what you’re advocating. Overuse of anti-bacterial soap can actually lead to more health problems in the long run. The more we expose microbial critters to these chemical compounds, the greater the chance they evolve resistance to them. The same goes for the the overuse of antibiotics.

    I’m not advocating the non-hand-washing position; I’m merely saying you should be careful what you wash your hands with. Try to avoid anti-bacterial soaps whenever possible so as to not contribute to the evolutionary advancement of our pathogens.

  10. sophia8

    Yes, RPM, I agree. But don’t leave off washing your hands because of that. I can’t recall exactly, but there was a study done last year that showed that even washing your hands with just plain water got rid of quite a lot of germs – but only if you really rubbed and scrubbed the skin. Soap of any sort helps to loosen whatever is on the skin surface, so it doesn’t have to be anti-bacterial.
    The lesson from the study was that to have really clean hands, you have to imitate the ‘scrub-up’ routine of medics and thoroughly rub every part of your hands and fingers; the soap isn’t as important as the scrubbing.

  11. STR

    I think it is pointless to worry about such things.

    I think if it was such a huge problem, everyone would be really sick all the time, and they are not. I think we have immune systems for a reason… but maybe not.

  12. Berkeley

    I always wash my hands after using the bathroom. I think my parents are to blame for this. Well, not blame. Thank. Parents should be more strict about a few things, I always say. Good habits form early.

    As a medical student, I sometimes think I know what I am talking about. Like now: Wash. Use soap, but it is not necessary to use anti-bacterial soap, a regular sodium-fatty acid-based soap is sufficient for most purposes. I don’t know if the English language contains the expression cat-wash. Norwegian does, it means a very brief wash, just apply water and shake it off. Do a bit more than that when washing after using the bathroom.

    When penicillin, the first antibiotic, was discovered in the late 1930′s, hygiene had already started to make its vast impact on the lives of millions of people in the world, thanks to eg. Semmelweiss. Penicillin has never been, and antibiotics never will be, the most important feature of modern medicine. Preventing disease is far more important. The overuse and mis-use of broad-spectered antibiotics against minor uncomplicated infections (throughout the world) may actually prove dangerous. Development of resistance against several antibiotics in microbes, producing strains that potentially may have a greater influence than most infections, because most people don’t have an immune defence against rare diseases nowadays.

    Preventing is better than treating. Wash hands.
    (Btw: Do I sound moralistic when saying this?)

  13. Nick

    While it is probably a good idea to wash your hands after defecating, you probably only need to use regular soap (which both loosens dirt, etc from your hands, and also reduces the surface tension of water, so it can enter small cracks & crannies in your hands that it otherwise would not be able to).

    However, there is too much of an American (mostly) hysteria over “germs,” and bacteria. Bacteria is a necessary part of life. We have tons of bacteria in our guts to help us digest food. We have more bacteria at nearly all times of the day already on our hands than you would ever find on a toilet seat, and there is no way to escape.

    There is also no reason you would want to not be constantly exposed to bacteria (within limits, of course), since it lets your immune system build up and become strong – if you were never exposed to bacteria, you would be very weak when having to do so ANY time you actually were exposed.

    I saw a commercial the other day for a spray that would get rid of the “billions of bacteria” constantly swarming in front of our faces. THey literally had a woman spraying the air in front of her “for her own safety!” People need to relax a little. Cleanliness is definitely good and important, but we need to interact with our environment, and bacteria are an essential part of that environment.

  14. okaasan59

    I read somewhere that Japan has one of the lowest rates of contagion from infectious disease, partly because most people there have the habit of regular handwashing. For the past several years I’ve made it a point to wash my hands more often when someone in my home is sick. I can’t say for sure that it’s helped, but since then I haven’t fallen prey to whatever crud is going around.

  15. ToSeek

    I spent about two years working in downtown Washington and taking the subway every day. During my first winter, I got about three colds. After that, I developed the habit of thoroughly washing my hands after each subway ride. The next winter, I got no colds.

  16. Berkeley

    “They’re all over me…”

    (excerpt from the song Germs, by Weird Al Yankovic)

  17. skeptic

    In general I agree with everything said, but this I have to disagree with:

    “Just rinsing doesn’t help, and in fact it hurts– wet hands are a great place for breeding more microscopic critters.”

    If you remove the tiny bits of fecal matter from your hands you remove the bacteria. Plain water will remove most of that. The purpose of washing your hands is to remove the crud the bacteria lives in, not kill the bacteria.

  18. Another Phobos

    Nick – “Bacteria” are one thing, but enteric bacteria are another. Sitting in your lower intestine, they’re fine…even helpful. But exposure to the eyes/ears/nose/throat can cause many problems. I’m not saying you doubt this…I’m just looking to make a distinction between quantity & quality. Bacteria are everywhere, as well they should be. But there are certain species we want to limit our exposure to.

  19. CR

    I agree that Americans are a tad obsessive about germ control, but I still don’t like handshakes. (“You just had your hand WHERE, doing WHAT, you didn’t wash it afterward, and now you want me to shake it? EEW!”)
    When it comes to children, they typically don’t wash, because there’s always something “better” that has their attention. I’m sure we’ve all heard kids say something along these lines: “I’ll wash later. Besides, they’ll just get dirty again anyway. You’re ALWAYS telling me to wash my hands! AWWW!” Heck, I’m sure we’ve all said something along those lines ourselves, when we were kids! Of course, if parents/adults aren’t setting the example, kids are never going to learn to do it themselves.
    As long as I’m ranting… would it kill any of you to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough? (Then maybe wash your hands as soon as possible?) At least turn your head away from other people when you do so. Sheesh!

  20. SweettP2063

    Sometimes you should wash your hands BEFORE you go potty especially if you have been out and about and touching things that hundreds or thousands of other people have touched.

    Ladies in particular please take note: Buses, subways, doors, railings, and even the items in any store all have a mulitude of dirt and germs. After touching such things the visible amount of dirt washing down the drain is amazing!

    Since we girls pee sitting down and must use our hands and wipe with toilet paper–I feel better, safer, with clean hands.

  21. indiie

    there is a person here at work who refuses to wash his hands after using the bathroom, saying that antibacterial gel provides enough sanitation. I refuse to eat any food he provides for company potluck lunches, and absolutely will not follow him in the lunch line. Funny thing, I’m the only person here who seems disgusted by his (lack of) hygiene!

  22. SweettP2063

    PS: Ladies after touching public stuff be sure to wash your hands before using the bathroom especially when you need to change your kotex or tampons.

    Guys you have been grossed out! :-)

  23. Ty

    I believe that not washing after defecation is one of the ways in which certain types of hepatitis are transmitted. I remember an article a couple years back in which an outbreak of hepatitis in my city was traced back to an infected fast food worker who was not washing after using the restroom.

    Washing your hands is just common courtesy.

  24. Nigel Depledge

    Blimey, what a lot of bacteriology we are all learning.

    I agree with RPM, Sophia8 and Berkeley.

    ToSeek – colds are not caused by bacteria. They are caused by viruses (mostly rhinoviruses), which are transmitted by air and not by manual contact. These viruses tend to “die” very quickly outside a host organism. Even an hour or so on your hands will reduce the viral load by several orders of magnitude (unless your hands are moist).

    BA, one pedantic point. Soap does not actually kill very many bacteria (except in high concentrations, which one typically does not achieve on one’s skin while washing). What it does is loosen their “grip” on your skin. The scrubbing action then removes them and they disappear down the plughole with the water you used to rinse off the lather.

    A point of general interest. Someone pointed out that enteric bacteria in the right place are harmless. Well, yes and no. If one’s body is accustomed to them, they are harmless. Many travellers experience unpleasant symptoms when encountering new strains of bacteria (e.g. the well-known Escherichia coli) that already exist in their digestive system. This phenomenon was first widely known during the days of British imperialism and is hence colloquially known as “Delhi belly”. I’m sure there are less polite versions, too.

  25. Ah, Nigel, you’re right– I corrected the entry.

  26. Outside observer

    Regarding what bacteria is dangerous, I remember my brother ( dr.) telling me that there are essentially only 5 types of bacteria that can cause food poisioning. A healthy belly can handle the rest of them.

    I imagine that these particular strain were not present during some critical time of human evolusion? Or is the system so adaptable that if one was exposed to listeria in a controlled fashion, one would devlop tolereance?

    ps:
    Perhaps we should implement global selective breeding, based on peoples ability to handle these bacteria. Because, I hear that when people get a proper food poisioning they tend to wish they were never born.

  27. Tim G

    Some cities are “dirtier” than others.

    I vaguely recall a news report about a survey of public restroom habits for different U.S. cities. Atlanta was the most lacking in sanitary rituals. If I recall correctly, Chicago was evaluated as being (relatively) clean.

  28. Why is it my weird entries (this one, creationism, the Donner party) get ten times as many comments as the astronomy ones? :-)

  29. Michelle Rochon

    I wash my hands… Then I use anti-bacterial liquid to finish any job I missed. :P I’m a bit paranoid when it comes to this. Knowing I can have gifts from someone else’s… hum, washout… leaves me a bit disgusted. If I have to open the door of a public bathroom, I open it with a paper towel then dispose of it quickly.

    Especially when I know the lady who left just before me and who works at the RESTAURANT IN THE SAID BUILDING AS A MAID does not WASH HER HANDS.

    I stopped eating there.

  30. Outside observer

    >>>Why is it my weird entries (this one, creationism, the Donner party) get ten times as many comments as the astronomy ones?

  31. Outside observer

    hmm.. there is a bug here. Half my post disapeared.

    It seems you cant use the charachter that is the reversal of this one: >

  32. Outside observer

    Yup. You guys just missed out on a great joke on astronomy.

  33. Stefanf

    Aw come on, tell it! Even without the little symbol!

  34. Michael Hopkins

    Drying your hand with a clean towel is also part of the process. It finishes the job of stripping the bacteria from the hands.

    Of course public places should empty the trash this produces on a regular basis. (And if they don’t they are risking it being noted by the health inspector.)

    This reminds me, I need to stock my car with some hand santatizer for the next time I get caught on the road with a situation where proper handwashing facilities are not around. There are some pretty sorry rest-stops out there. (And some really good ones as well.) Plus on vacation one will run into restrooms which are basically outhouses.

  35. Did no one click on the link underlying your claim that 25% of stools are bacteria? I was sceptical, so I did click it and discovered that stools are generally 75% water and 25% other things including live and dead bacteria, undigested and undigestible food and other waste products. I think its incorrect and misleading to say that stools are 25% bacteria.

  36. To Ruidh: I did click and check the 25% claim, but you beat me to it. Also, is that 25% weight, or 25% volume?

  37. JPax2003

    What about worms? Aren’t there several forms of worm that can live in the gut and pass egg sacks out in fecal matter? I think that image would be more persuasive than worrying about bacteria. I even seem to remember reading about some worms that crawl out at night…

    What effect does soap and antibacterials have on them?

  38. ruidh, I reread the link and you appear to be correct. I fixed that line.

  39. tjm220

    I don’t often get food poisoning and have been to restaurants where most everyone around me got sick yet I didn’t. A few years I ago I somehow managed to get shigella sonnei which was thoroughly unpleasant. The regional health authority phoned me some days later wondering which third world country I went to. I never did find out how I got it.

  40. ruidh

    To Sean: I don’t think it matters. The average density of feces appear to be close to the density of water (plus or minus depending on the proportion of “floaters” to “submarines”). If that’s the case, it’s both 25% by volume and 25% by weight.

    The 75% number appears to be rounded and probably does not have a lot of precision. Depending on how much soluble fiber is in your stool and how much water is in your diet it could be significantly higher or lower. Do you drink your recommended 8 glasses of water a day?

  41. Nigel Depledge

    To Outside Observer: There are many bacteria to which humans have not been exposed during our evolution (for example, all the extremophiles that live in caustic lakes or in antarctic ice or in volcanic pools). These do not pose a threat unless they get into an open wound, because they have evolved no way to cope with our body’s antibacterial defences. The bacteria that do pose a threat are those that have evolved in such a way that our bodies represent the perfect environment for their replication. These ones have often evolved defences against our immune response, because they have evolved in close proximity to us.

    To JPax2003: I do not know a great deal of parasitology, but what little I have picked up suggests the idea of parasitic worms crawling out at night is unlikely. They are already in their favourite habitat (typically a human’s small intestine). Neither the worms nor their eggs will be affected by antibacterial agents. Hand washing is equally important, though. If you happen to get tapeworm eggs on your hands and pass them on to another person, the eggs will hatch inside that person’s gut. The larval stage of the tapeworm (called an oncosphere – I learned all this gruesome stuff in a recent article in NewScientist, by the way) burrows through the lining of the gut and can infect the muscles, eyes and brain. It will then turn into the next stage of the life cycle (I can’t remember the term). This stage is “infectious” and can give rise to the adult tapeworm. In pigs, this stage of the life cycle causes few or no symptoms, but to humans can be severely debilitating. If this happens in a pig, and we eat the meat of that pig without cooking it thoroughly, we will get a tapeworm. This is why you should never eat undercooked pork, and no amount of handwashing can save you here.

  42. It has been 21 years since the Grade 9 science class that explained exactly the process Nigel just described about tapeworms and pork, and I cannot to this day force myself to eat pork.

    Tapeworms freak me out. Unwashed hands aren’t much better.

  43. JusANuttaBackYahdah

    This whole dialouge renders new meaning to the old adage “my fecal matter is not odoriferous” … BA what have you started and have you seen any good nebulae recently?

  44. TriangleMan

    I always get irritated by co-workers who use the washroom and don’t wash their hands – then proceed to a meeting and shake hands with clients. I consider it disrespectful and it makes me queasy thinking about it. Then I wonder if any of the clients don’t wash their hands either. Ack!

  45. Alisha D.

    I wish automation in the public and residential bathrooms would accelerate faster than it has. I never felt good about the idea of washing your hands, then manually turning off a dirty faucet handle or cranking a towel dispenser, only to dirty them with the germs transferred from turning the faucet on. Add to that, turning a dirty knob, and your hands might be worse off than when you started.
    I love the automated hand proximity detection faucets when they work; spurting water out for no longer than two seconds. And haven’t we all played “beat the clock” with the faucet sensor? :) How about the toilet paper dispensers that stingily dispense two or three squares at a time of that cheap-ass paper with all the fine qualities of papyrus.

    I hear fabric seating cushions are great at capturing particles of feces, dust, and mites; spewing them into the air when the occupant plunges down on the seat cushion. I think I recall someone sampling the air in a movie theatre and finding surprising amounts of feces floating around. I’m not surprised by sloughed skin and dust mites, but feces didn’t sit too well with me. Are be better off with leather, vinyl, or plastic seats?

  46. ByTheWay

    This blog caught my attention today — I was at work, came out of a stall, and was washing my hands, and noticed the guy at the urinal just zipped up and left! Ahhhhh!

    I made sure to use a paper towel to open the door as I left! (something I never do…)

  47. The Straight Dope already discussed this:

    “Why men should wash their hands”

    http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_220.html

  48. Pieter Nagel

    True for defecation, but what about urination?

    Since urine is normally sterile, it makes much more sense to wash your hands *before* you urinate than to do so afterwards – since your hands are likely to be more full of germs from the environment than what’s hidden under your underpants.

  49. broken twig

    Nigel Depledge – you are wrong about worms crawling out. Some do.
    If you look up pinworm I think that you will find that they do crawl the rear end and lay their eggs plus a chemical that causes irritation. The host then scratches and gets the eggs on their hand whereby they can be passed to others and back into the host for re-infection. A nasty creature the pinworm(otherwise known as threadworm).

  50. Berkeley

    Urine is essentially sterile, unless you have a urinary tract infection. However, microbes thrive where there is urine, and warm, moist areas have a tendency to produce great growth conditions for microbes. That’s why you wash hands also after urinating.

    BTW, BA: I would love to post more comments on your astronomy posts, but I just usually don’t know enough about the subject to have an opinion on them. I still read them, you know.

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Well, I stand corrected. I have only one comment on the behaviour of pinworms: eww!

    Pieter, you beat me to it; I also was going to point out that urine is sterile (unless you have an infection). However, it is moist, your underpants are usually warm, and urine contains a good source of both carbon and nitrogen: urea, CO(NH2)2. So, unless you can remove every last drop, you will create an environment in which bacteria can multiply.

    Also, urine is slightly toxic (urea is the body’s way of removing excess nitrogen from the system), so you don’t really want to leave it on your hands.

  52. Ŭalabio‽

    Speaking about germs, we may have contaminated Mars with our bacteria:

    http://timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-524-1697332-524,00.html

    By the way, two days ago, I posted a comment which your filters misidentified as a spamcomment. ¿Could you fix the problem?

  53. HawaiiArmenian

    As a Molecular Biologists, this discussion brings back those nostalgic moments of walking around public bathrooms, as well as many other public locales with a sterile swab and an agar plate. It’s not just restrooms one has to be careful of, but doorknobs, and water fountains as well. Just looking at all the interesting pathogenic organisms that were incubated at the source of the water (in the fountain), I swore off drinking from those that specific moment. Especially interesting is how some people actually put their lips to the outflow on the fountains…if they only knew.
    On a less frightening note–the human body is amazingly resilient, and has evolved through billions of years of coevolution with these pathogenic organisms. A healthy adult human generally has little to worry about, especially in the mostly hygenic Western world. In fact, studies have shown that children brought up in an exclusively hygenic environment, devoid of frequent contact with other children (such as those with no siblings), and the ability to “get dirty”, have an increased likelyhood of Asthma and other respiratory problems. Further, their immune systems are not as well developed, and the likelyhood of an increase in auto-immune disorders is more apparent.
    What’s the point in all-of-this, one might ask? It’s good to be hygenic, but not to the point of making it rule one’s life. Use soap and water (anti-bacterial soaps may in fact, do more harm then good, in terms of increasing the likelyhood of resistent strains), upon leaving the bathroom, make sure hands are dried, and the door is not opened bare handed (practically destroying the whole point of washing hands, sure you got your own germs out, but now you’re touching someone elses who may have not washed their hands)– using paper towels or napkins to open the door, and finally, taking great care and concern only when around immuno-compromised individuals (such as the young, the old, and the ill).
    Finally, it’s also good to remember that what we recognize as the age of dinosaurs, mammals, etc, is completely wrong. Ever since prokaryotic organisms have come about, it has always, and will always be the age of bacteria.

  54. MacDaGerm

    My 2 cents ..

    Well, probably someone mentioned it before already, but I couldn’t be bothered going through all of the fifty-something comments here. Washing your hands is alright, I don’t blame anyone for washing their hands. Jeez, have a shower after each time you touch a doorknob that has been touched by others, but keep one thing in mind:

    You can run, but you cannot hide.

    These little organisms are everywhere, they live under your bed, in your kitchen, inbetween your toes, in your armpits, hell, in your ears. They’re on plates, on knifes, on forks, they are on potatos, rice, tomatos, apples and cherries.

    This is just a guess, but avoiding contact with bacteria might even turn out to be contra-productive. Your body uses small amounts of bacteria to research anti-bodies to fight “invasions” of greater numbers of their fellow brothers and sisters. So the urge to stay clean in a way that it includes bacteria and other stuff that cannot be seen might in fact seperate us from the world around us.

    Of course the idea of taking home things that have been in intimate places of other people isn’t the most appealing thing, however it’s not likely to get you killed. Instead regular contact with bacteria does to enhance your resilience.

    I’m not saying “Don’t wash your hands” or “Don’t have a shower in the mornings”, I’m just saying that you shouldn’t take it too far. There’s pretty much nothing to be afraid of, there’s nothing out there that your body hasn’t dealt with yet.
    ;-) Greets,

    Mac

    P.S.: English isn’t my motherlanguage, so please bare with me.

  55. Nigel Depledge

    MacDaGerm – when you say “There’s pretty much nothing to be afraid of, there’s nothing out there that your body hasn’t dealt with yet.” I think you are right in a general sense, but wrong in specific instances.

    Take Escherichia coli as an example. Everyone had E. coli in their intestines. This is perfectly normal, and nothing to be ashamed about. However, across the planet there are many different strains of E. coli, meaning that they have small genetic differences from one part of the world to another. So, there are probably at least a hundred strains of E. coli to which I have never been exposed; each of these has the potential to make me ill, if only mildly, and perhaps only for a short time. It is possible that a few of them could make me very ill. And I know that there is one strain that is potentially lethal : E. coli O157H7 has caused fatal food poisoning in the Western world quite recently.

    So, while I accept that one cannot avoid exposure to bacteria, and in fact one should not even try to live life in a sterile environment (unless seriously immunocompromised), there is a tangible benefit to washing one’s hands after using a toilet.

  56. pumpkinpie

    HawaiiArmenian:
    Good points, but I wanted to nitpick your statement, “taking great care and concern only when around immuno-compromised individuals (such as the young, the old, and the ill).” Some people have immunodeficiences who are not young or old, and do not look sick. So you never know if you’re “not taking great care” around someone who needs you to. They of course are aware of their conditions and should be taking extra care themselves, but they would be better off if everyone always took great care no matter whom they were around! (In a perfect world, I know!)

  57. Nigel Depledge

    One last thought : I wouldn’t worry too much about door handles. If they’re dry, the bacterial load will not be very much anyway, and if they’re wet, a paper towel is unlikely to prevent multiplying bacteria from reaching your skin. To achieve a “sterile” filtration requires a very tight filter (the generally accepted guide is 0.22 micron pore size, but 0.45 microns will take out more than 99.9% of an organism like E. coli). Your average paper towel is unlikely to constitute anything like this standard. The fibres will wick up the moisture, and the bugs will come with it.

    Have fun, everyone!

  58. boofooz

    I think people are far too uptight about bacteria. Obviously you should wash your hands after going to the toilet and especially if you are preparing food or you’re a doctor but many people try to achieve a sterile environment, which is just not healthy.

    I’m not talking about being friendly to the “friendly” bacteria that we need. I’m talking about the fact that our immune system is a learning system and like all learning systems, it needs something to study, otherwise it will grow dumb and do stupid things. People who are mad about disinfecting their environments do nothing but teach their immune systems to attack everything except real bacteria and then they wonder why they easily get sick and suffer from allergies. Most likely they think they’ll get sick even more often if they wouldn’t be so “clean”.

    Of course all the companies selling disinfectants want to scare us into using their products but we shouldn’t forget where we came from and what environment we evolved in.

  59. Crux Australis

    This is probably going to earn me some derision, but I don’t always wash my hands after number 1′s (especially in the middle of the night) because urine is sterile. I know that bacteria can use the urea and proteins as nutrients but I’ve never got sick because of it. My wife simply can’t be bothered either.

    For the record, always after #2′s.

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