Swine flu handwashing repost

By Phil Plait | April 27, 2009 4:00 pm

So swine flu is on the minds of lots of folks right now, of course. I’m concerned as well (especially knowing that antivaxxers are probably licking their chops over this), but I’m also lazy and busy, so instead of new material I’ll repost this blog entry from 2005 about hygiene and hand washing. It’s still true and always will be.


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 (132)

  1. http://xkcd.com/574/

    I think the last “tweet” in that comic would make you, um, well, really not sure how to react to it! ;)

  2. Jeremy

    The swine flu thing appears, from here, to be vastly overblown. Nevertheless, anything that gets more people to wash their hands (it’s far, far too uncommon) is a good thing.

    I just wish the media would stop trying to create a panic about the whole thing for the sake of their own ratings.

  3. I second that!
    I just tweeted “wash hands, wash hands, wash hands!” Works best when your kids also wash their hands!
    And, no, I don’t have OCD, but this is the single best way to prevent yourself from getting ill.

  4. Right now it’s hard to tell if it’s overblown. We could be seeing another SARS where it fizzles out after a few months or the beginning of a new pandemic (1918 is a worst case scenario but the last pandemic in the 70s was pretty bad too). I don’t like the hysteria but at the same time I’m not going to ignore it if only out of my own fascination for infectious diseases.

  5. One of the greatest things about having kids is that you need to impress upon them good habits, and reinforces my own good habits. Otherwise, my 3 year old will remind me to wash my hands the second he sees me enter the bathroom.

    Warm/Hot water 2-3 minutes, uses soap and agitate!

    I used to make fun of people who have purell at their desk at work, now I’m one of them.

  6. John Powell

    Protect yourself and others!

    Germs pass from your hands into your nose, mouth, ears and eyes.

    1. Wash your hands before and after eating.

    2. Keep your hands away from your face whenever possible.

  7. John Powell

    Oh yeah, as an IT professional: Clean Your Fracking Keyboard once in a while.

    Thanks! ;^)

  8. That guy with the hawkish gaze hanging out in the washroom…he wasn’t a Senator, was he?

    Ha.

  9. Huw

    I believe as well as using soap, it’s crucial to dry the hands as well.

  10. Dan

    My daughter has had severe allergic reactions to vaccines in the past, so we stopped getting them for her (our son is up to date on his). Our assumption has always been that the herd immunity would protect her — if the disease has no path to infect her, she can’t get sick. Thanks to the antivaxxers, this is no longer a safe assumption.

    Back on topic though, both kids wash their hands. With soap. Come on people, how freaking difficult is that?

  11. dhtroy

    I place full responsibility for this outbreak on Sylvia Brown. She should have seen this coming and warned the world!

  12. Adrian Lopez

    “… especially knowing that antivaxxers are probably licking their chops over this …”

    If anything, the swine flu offers a glimpse into how dangerous antivaxxers really are: They’d rather allow other diseases to spread like the swine flu than place their children at imaginary risk.

  13. tacitus

    And use regular soap, not the anti-bacterial stuff, which wouldn’t help stop the flu virus anyway.

  14. Kris

    “Warm/Hot water 2-3 minutes, uses soap and agitate! ”

    That’s a bit excessive. No, scratch that, it’s really excessive. Thirty seconds with soap and hot water is more than enough.

  15. Chris C.

    Ok, noob question since this group is new to me: what is their presumptive angle on this flu?

  16. They say singing happy birthday or the ABCs is long enough….

  17. Plus, people will avoid you because you are strange for singing in the restroom!

  18. Walkiria

    You think 2 to 3 minutes is long? They’re actually saying that you have to do it for 8 minutes.

    Also, the use of the mouthpieces… are they really necessary? I think they’re pure bull but I haven’t done any research on it.

    You guys should be down here in Mexico, it’s incredible how the paranoia spreads, if you don’t stop to think about it you get sucked into it. Specially when the government cancels school for a week and a half everywhere in Mexico.

  19. tacitus

    Ok, noob question since this group is new to me: what is their presumptive angle on this flu?

    I will hazard to speak for the group :)

    Concerned, but not panicked. Could become a pandemic, but too early to tell. Serious enough to take precautions, especially if there is evidence of it spreading through your own community.

    Dismisses the woo stuff as nonsense — conspiracies that it’s an act of terrorism, or a plot to help reduce the world population to 500 million people usher in the New World Order (seriously!). A Concerned Women for America (a right-wing fundie group) spokesperson, just today, that the flu worries were being hyped up by the Obama administration just so that they can get the pro-choice Kathleen Sibelius confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary!

  20. tacitus

    You guys should be down here in Mexico, it’s incredible how the paranoia spreads, if you don’t stop to think about it you get sucked into it. Specially when the government cancels school for a week and a half everywhere in Mexico.

    There are reports today that the virus has spread to half of Mexico. Given the high mortality rate in Mexico City, isn’t it sensible to take precautions until they have a better handle on how serious the problem is?

  21. Walkiria: If I remember correctly even in hospitals the recommendation is 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing so 8 minutes is overkill.

  22. Alex

    Maybe if you’re a softy. My immune system has been grizzled by years of germ exposure and I have no intention of stopping now.

  23. Richard

    Oh, crap, another frakkin’ conspiracy theory.

    I heard a fragment of it from a co-worker.

    Never underestimate the power of credulity. It works wonders. It’s like a homeopathic solution: the less evidence the conspiracy contains, the more it is believed. Caught a website that makes the conjecture that since this strain of swine flu contained gene fragments from viruses from all over the world, then it’s suspicious…maybe even engineered.

    Nevermind that in this close-knit globe and the adaptability of flu viruses (like picking up new genetic fragments from other strains), such widespread flues could coalesce into one ass-kicking virus.

    But then, maybe the conspiracy is too sexy for some to ignore.

  24. No no no! It’s all an attempt to declare Martial Law and do away with the Constitution…

    It’s like a homeopathic solution: the less evidence the conspiracy contains, the more it is believed.

    BRILLIANT! :D

  25. This is great advice, BUT, isn’t it moot when the guy/girl that just left the bathroom before you didn’t wash???

  26. Supposing you are going in or out of a door in public place, like a toilet, and suppose you don’t have a tissue (us girlies can take those disposable wipes and keep them our handbags, me does)to put over your hand when opening the door, what I do is, push or pull the door in a different place to what people would use. Exampl: kids might push the door (if it has no handle) towards the bottom area (more germs in that area) so aim for the other areas of the door.

    Just a tip.

    Claire

  27. sailor

    But more than washing hands, makes sure you give yourself a good deep enema, that should really protect you.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-evans/swine-flu-protect-yoursel_b_191550.html

  28. John Powel, you got it.

    When I am in ‘Tescos'(I call it Discos) shopping, I don’t put my hands to mouth or face. Think of germs on the goods that are handled. wash hands after shopping at home. We need some germs/viruses to create an immune response, quite important, but there is a balance.

    Claire

  29. Michael Lavender

    Look, don’t make yerself crazy. Wash your hands for 30 seconds under comfortably warm water. (Not like the OCD writer Jack Nicholson played in “As Good As It Gets) Scrub at least as high as your wrists, turn off the tap with the paper towels.
    If you rub your eyes -don’t.
    If you pick your nose-don’t.
    If you eat without washing -don’t.
    And if ya wanna know about a real pandemic, read John Barry’s “The Great Influenza”. Reads like a Michael Crichton thriller, except it happened.

  30. I made a web comic about the whole thing:

    http://bit.ly/t9R4D

  31. I have read several versions of “proper handwahong technique.” But in addition to the basics (soap, water – warm if available , lather), there are a few other points:

    1. Get paper towels ready before you start washing, especially if this means using a crank or lever to dispense them.
    2. Use a paper towel to turn the water faucet off. Most likely every hand that has touched it to turn it on was in an unwashed state. You might want to use a (different) paper towel to turn the water fauce ON in the first place.
    3. Use a paper towel to open the door to leave. (My workplace has finally gotten the idea and has started placing garbage cans outside of rest rooms so the paper towels can be discarded.)
    4. If you’re in a bathroom where there are no paper towels…well, you’re screwed. Leave the water running (or, if you’re flexible like me, use your elbow to turn it off) and wait for someone else to open the door.

  32. “handwahong”? Wow, I need to spell-check these things.

  33. TDL

    A vaccine is probably a few months out for this outbreak, but if a pandemic were to occur, I would like to emphatically ask that Jenny McCarthy please go to the back of the line. I will happily “endanger” my kids with such a vaccine and let Jenny protect hers from whatever unrelated disorder she thinks the vaccine will cause.

  34. Nemo

    Why would antivaxxers be licking their chops?

  35. Adam

    Some proper responses to the swine flu. I though Phil might enjoy the last one:

    http://xkcd.org/574/

  36. Davidlpf

    The antivaxxers are licking their chops because they probably say something like “Why didn’t the flu vaccine work on this flu”. Not realizing that the flu vaccine usually has just a few strains that scientist think will hit certain areas of the world. The thing with this swine flu is it was unexpected so the flu vaccine is unaffective for it.

  37. Cairnos

    “Why would antivaxxers be licking their chops?”

    Because they will ignore the fact that we already know the current flu vaccine is ineffective against this one and will trt chanting “Look, people who had a flu shot are gettign sick too, proof that vaccines don’t work! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

    Case in point of media beat up, I’ve already seen one media article in NZ which focused on whether the media might actually be creating a panic by overreporting on this. This was in a paper that had already granted huge amounts of front page space to the minute detailing of 10 students who had been to mexico who had come down with flu symptoms and an almost minute by minute account of the wait for the results. Oh, and recently a much smaller second page mention that ‘No, it’s just a regular flu, guess we shouldn’t have panicked.’

  38. Cairnos

    Oh, and the mini-blog on Badscience has a link to a site that was so into this being a conspiracy (actually it’s the beta test for the real de-population event to come later apparently) that I was seriously wondering if it was a Poe’s law violation.

  39. Hey! (OT). Everyone’s fave Bad Astronomer was just on Nat Geo HD channel here in Canada! “Hubble’s Final Frontier”

  40. SB

    Your comment re. using soap — “Just rinsing doesn’t help, and in fact it hurts– wet hands are a great place for breeding more microscopic critters” — doesn’t make sense. Surely that would be an argument against not-drying?

  41. Randy Griffin

    After reading through the comments, I’m disappointed. All astronomers should know that you sing “Twinkle twinkle little star” while washing your hands!

  42. tacitus

    My favorite for all things conspiratorial:

    http://www.prisonplanet.com/

    Just read the headlines on the front page of the site.

    (The guy who started the site is Alex Jones, who started off on cable access channels here in my home town of Austin and is now (sadly) a syndicated radio talk show host. He is, quite literally, a raving lunatic and his followers already find it impossible to believe this swine flu virus could have occurred naturally.)

  43. Davidlpf

    They should invite Phil on show where they have to demostrate things like light reflecting off of survaces or iridium flares. :-)

  44. Davidlpf

    sorry suppose to be “surfaces”.

  45. Thanks for the tip, Phil. I always wash my hands, kinda like Lady Macbeth.

    I found another great way to avoid catching germs: Don’t go to church. I always felt that was a terrible place to go with all that standing, sitting, kneeling next to all those people…not to mention the hand shaking, cracker eating and sharing a cup blood (wine) with everyone there. Stupid.

  46. wheels

    What about people that are in wheelchairs. Sure I can wash my hands but when I touch my wheels to move there goes all that bacteria back on my hands. So washing my hands is pointless. You know what with over 10 years of not washing my hands and have not been sick once. I even eat with my hands. For healthy adults 99.9% of bacteria in bathrooms are harmless to you.

    You think your hands are bad what about your mouth. Human mouths have tons of bacteria in them, yet we don’t keep from kissing our loved ones. I just don’t get this. If it wasn’t for bacteria we wouldn’t exist since all life is bacteria life. Every cell in your body is powered by bacteria called the mitochondria. Sorry for the rant but someone has to stick up for the little critters. LOL. No, I am not an anti vaxer.

  47. wheels

    Edit: My last post was about bacteria I was not thinking about viruses like swine flu. So yes people should normally wash their hands.

  48. “I’m concerned as well (especially knowing that antivaxxers are probably licking their chops over this)”

    Oh yes they are… and they’ve already started their disinformation campaign:

    http://worldofweirdthings.com/2009/04/27/well-that-didnt-take-long/

  49. Wheels, I appreciate your position as far as not being able to wash your hands but you’ve obviously never picked up the shigella bug, http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shigella

    Well neither have I but my partner did and I thought she was going to die. She had problems for months. Fecal-oral contamination. Probably picked up because some dodgy food preparer hadn’t washed their hands before preparing food. I’m not the most scrupulous person when it comes to washing hands generally but it is criminal if you don’t after going to the toilet. And anyone that prepares food professionally and doesn’t wash their hands deserves to eat their own food.

  50. IVAN3MAN

    Shane:

    Probably picked up because some dodgy food preparer hadn’t washed their hands before preparing food.

    That’s why I never eat out — especially at fast-food joints! :P

  51. Michael

    How many people die each day from smoking? How many people from alcohol abuse? How many people have died so far from swine flu? About 100?

    Perspective, people. I got cheap airfare for a vacation to Asia during the SARS scare… maybe airfare to Mexico will be cheap this winter.

  52. Miranda

    Phil, I have a question.

    I grant you that the hand-washing advice is important in dealing bacteria or “microscopic critters”, but can you please cite a source that confirms that hand-washing does anything to prevent the spread of viruses? I ask, because I have heard of studies that indicate that hand-washing either a) does nothing to prevent transmission of viral diseases or b) has not been shown to have any effect on the same. It’s totally anecdotal I admit, but that’s why I’m asking you for a source for your claim.

    Additionally, my understanding is that we actually know very little about how viruses are transmitted, including the common cold, despite wide-spread beliefs that coughing on someone is sufficient to infect them. This leads me to wonder if those ridiculous surgical masks make any difference either.

    Any help from you or other commentors would be appreciated!! Also, please note everyone that I am a HUGE hand-washer and that I’m not looking for an excuse to waltz out of a bathroom with my hands covered in fecal residue :)

  53. tacitus

    Part of the problem with people not following sensible advice (myself included) is that we’re just not very good at assessing risk. We’ll freak out about flying somewhere (after 9/11, for example) and drive our wife and kids 2,000 miles instead, even when we know, logically, that flying is still far safer than driving.

    I don’t wash my hands anywhere near enough, but if I’ve ever gotten really sick because of that, it’s only been once or twice in my lifetime, and I have no way of knowing for sure if it was because I didn’t wash my hands those few times. That’s the experience of most people, so washing hands in the relatively hygienic world we live in today, isn’t see as that important day-to-day because we have no good sense of the real risk we’re taking.

    A friend of mine wasn’t so lucky. An opportunistic infection left him with a painful and crippling type of arthritis that will be with him and get progressively worse for the rest of his life. He doesn’t know how he caught the bug, but it’s a warning that we’re all just one bad case of bacterial infection away from serious hurt.

    It doesn’t really matter to the bacteria if you haven’t been sick for 20 years. They’ll get you just the same if they just happen to catch a ride with you at just the wrong time.

  54. tacitus

    Miranda, I’m no expert, but from all the reports I have seen the key is reduce the change of ingesting or inhaling the virus. Washing your hands isn’t going to kill the virus necessarily, but it is going to increase the chances of it going down the plughole instead of into your mouth the next time you put your fingers near it.

    If someone sneezes in your face there isn’t much you can do (except gag!), but since most people cover their mouths with their hands when they cough and sneeze, then it would make a lot of sense to avoid hand contact with people who might be sick or wash your hands before you touch anything else.

    It’s all about doing things to reduce the odds of getting infected. In normal times, the odds of catching an infection are fairly low and it’s usually not too serious if you do happen to get one. If this swine flu does turn into a dangerous pandemic then we should do everything to reduce those odds, not just for us to for our families, neighbors, and everyone else. Washing hands probably does not eliminate the risk, but if enough people take the right precautions, it could mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people.

  55. tdhowe

    One thing my mother told me she heard recently at a conference on job safety was if you use a waterless hand sanitizer (i.e. Germ-X or other alcohol based) you should still was your hands with water as soon as possible. The idea being that while you may have killed the germs; what ever filth you had on your hands is still there in some amount and could later provide a place for new germs to be harbored .
    Granted at her work (which was involved with the cleanup after Katrina) some of the employees encounter much more filth (read as: sewage) than average, still would seem sound advice for anyone, especially people who are in a care giver situation to children or the elderly, or involved with food preparation.

  56. Bastard Sheep

    “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.”

    Before or after washing?

  57. Another pet hate…
    Going to a sandwich shop or something where the staff wear plastic gloves because they’re preparing food. But they don’t take the glove off when they take your money. Drives me up the wall.

  58. This Guy

    I don’t wash my hands in the bathroom unless I have reason to. I don’t know about you, but I wash my junk everyday and then put on clean underwear. If anything, I should wash my hands before going to the bathroom to keep my junk clean.

    This article proves you should wash your hands before surgery (duh), but then you try to say it applies to every time I take a leak? I don’t think so. That’s ridiculous. Come on, where is your skepticism?

  59. @This Guy

    That is just… off. Come on where’s your hygiene.

  60. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    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.

    That is the first time I have heard either of those two claims: that rinsing isn’t effective, and that wet, or rather residual wet hands after drying, makes a difference for say viruses as here. References, please?

    Meanwhile, I found this small and dated (1993) paper on hand-washing efficiencies against viruses (from fecal matter).

    They tested hepatitis-A and polio viruses by comparison with the amount of infectious viruses 20 minutes after rinsing and drying. (Apparently an earlier paper of theirs found that drying is useful for reducing the amount of infectious agents, so they didn’t test for a difference here.)

    The paper found that tap water is comparable in efficiency with 10 other hand-washing agents such as antiseptic soaps and alcohols used in hospitals or sold at markets. (So not liquid disinfectants, which seems to be considered efficient in medical use if removing 99.9 % of infectious agents according to the paper.)

    Table 2-3 summarizes the interesting results:

    – Generally, any hand-washing agents combined with drying reduce the number of infectious agents between ~ 80 – 98 % depending on agent type.
    – Tap water is as efficient as unmedicated soap against hepatitis-A viruses and comparable with others against polio viruses.
    – Tap water is definitely worse than soaps against later transferal. (As usual you really want alcohols for organics removal from surfaces, the result was then undetectable.) But the amounts are very small compared to the amounts left on your fingers, less than 4-5 % of the remaining 2-20 %. I.e. potentially you drop transferal from 100 % (or more, by their comparison definition) to less than a range of 0.1 to 1 %.

    So as far as I can see, if these results from a small study stand up, mere tap water rinsing and drying protects you and your fellows rather well from infectious agents compared to using regular soaps.

    [“Regular” – I’m referring to Sweden, where medicated soaps are AFAIK rather uncommon. For example, the Triclosan washing agent used in the paper would perhaps still be out in the market here, but people may recognize the environmental problems that compound leads to.]

    This would also tie in with what I seem to remember from clean room practices, that mere rinsing and drying significantly lower particulate transfer from hands to gloves (and so potentially further). [There washing agents are frowned upon on account of chemical transferal and the potential for particulate aggregation from them, but that is not applicable here.]

    And at the very least rinsing and drying doesn’t seem to hurt, contradicting the claim in the post.

    Now, if not before, I’m very suspicious about the claim that soap (at the very least) is necessary against infectious agents. Is it empirically warranted?

    Or are people just using it on the principle that since soap removes organics well, so leaves you fresher, and is, I assume, antiseptic in its nature “common sense” tells you it makes a difference? “Common sense” is nonsensical in nature, you know. ;-)

  61. @This Guy

    That is just… off. Come on where’s your basic hygiene?

  62. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    And while I’m too lazy to look up the reference on drying efficiency from the earlier paper, I found this pamphlet in the rest of the original search material. It claims that cotton towels removes ~ 70 % of bacteria from hands. (Closely followed by paper towels. References provided, but I take no responsibility. :-))

    According to them (seems to be a cloth cabinet towel manufacturer) air drying is rather inefficient at a mere ~ 10 % removal and “are known to accumulate fecal pathogens”. Well, so are bath rooms. :-/

  63. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    If anything, I should wash my hands before going to the bathroom to keep my junk clean.

    Well, yes, before and after, is the usual recommendation of course. How come you don’t know this?

  64. bob

    “Why the hell not?”

    Because my dick is a damn slight cleaner than the average public loo facility. I don’t touch the urinal or the sink or even the door handle.

    Oh, and I’ll start caring about the swine flu pandemic when there’s even a small hint of a swine flu pandemic. See also bird flu (Remember that?).

  65. This Guy

    basic hygiene is in the shower. I’m as clean as I need to be. I don’t need to waste time washing my hands when they are already clean enough.

    seriously. can someone give me a real reason? or are you just going to flame me?

  66. JohnW

    I’m very anal about washing my hands after using the John (hardy har har x2). Like Harold, I’m also very careful not to touch anything afterwards – I push the faucet shut with my forearm, work the paper towel dispenser handle with my forearm, and use the tail of my shirt to open the door. Think about it – every person who flushed the urinal or toilet just touched themselves down there before touching that handle. And then touched the faucet handle to turn on the water. And if they didn’t use soap, touched the dispenser handle and door handle.

    Didn’t get sick once last winter!

  67. Dawn

    I’ll be honest and say I take almost none of these precautions, either. However, after many years as a nurse I have developed severe allergies to most soaps, so that’s my biggest issue. After going to the toilet, I wash my hands under running water for 15-20 seconds (no soap). I dry them thoroughly, then leave the bathroom. I don’t use paper towels to open doors, I don’t flush the toilet with my feet (I use my hands, they are going to be washed anyway…). I also don’t use any hand sanitizers, also due to the allergies. I do try to keep my hands away from my mouth and eyes. I wash with the few soaps I can use when I am at home, always before preparing food.

    Surgical scrubs usually last 2-3 minutes, but they use scrub brushes and much stronger soaps…started out with iodine and now commonly Hibiclens ™. Too many years of that for my skin. Now there are very few things I can use without breaking out into lovely rashes with hives.

  68. IVAN3MAN

    I’ll wager that This Guy doesn’t bother to get out of the bath/pool when nature calls either!

  69. Frank Ch. Eigler

    Bad Astronomer guy, could you advise how washing dead bacteria away once or twice a day is to help with flu (a virus)?

  70. Todd W.

    @This Guy

    I’m assuming you touch other things with your hands, things like door handles, pens, desks, your wallet, your pants, shoes, and so on. Those all have various bacteria and the like on them n varying amounts. Also, I’m guessing you probably sweat. Well, that helps bacteriato grow, too. Bear in mind as well that fecal matter gets everywhere. It’s even on your toothbrush.

    But in the end, is it really such a trial to take the precaution? True, you might not need to wash your hands, but think of it like insurance. You buy it because of what might happen if you don’t.

  71. Todd W.

    @Frank Ch. Eigler

    You aren’t just washing bacteria away. You may also be washing off the virus, if you’ve come in contact with a surface exposed to someone else’s mucous (e.g., they cough or sneeze into their hand, picked their nose, etc.). That way, when you put your hand to your mouth, nose or eyes, you’re less likely to be sticking the virus into them, too.

  72. !astralProjectile

    Did anyone else notice that the avian/swine/human hybrid flu first occured shortly after the pigasus prizes were awarded?

    What was Jenny doing to that poor thing?

  73. michel

    johnw: Didn’t get sick once last winter!

    you know for sure there’s a correlation? i take none of your precautions (although i do wash my own hands) and i haven’t been ill for… i don’t know… 20 years? of course, that says nothing about you, as my immune system might simply be stronger. i don’t think there are general guidelines as to what you should do. i pretty relaxed about all this and i see no need to change my ways, as i hardly get sick. on the other hand, people who are really vulnerable should take precautions.

    2 relevant stats i like:
    – there are more germs in anyone’s colon than the total amount of people that have ever lived. so germs aren’t bad per se.

    – here in holland, bars will sometimes have bowls with free salted nuts for their customers, of course to make them thirsty. research has shown that the average bowl of nuts contain traces of urine of at least 20 different people. :) maybe that’s why they sell alcohol.

  74. exa

    It’s interesting how emotional people get when talking about hand washing after people go to the toilet. Just reading this post, you can see the author embellishing it with negativity towards people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. As critical thinkers we need to put aside our emotions and biases and look at the facts and also remain consistent. Implying that hand washing is as important to surgery as it is after using the toilet is extremely misleading. Cutting open someone’s body and placing your hands inside is orders of magnitude different to not washing your hands after using the toilet.They simply cannot be compared.

    Only 10 percent of the cells in or on your body are human. We have been evolving to live with germs for hundreds of millions of years. Living in a sterile environment can be detrimental to your health. If you brought a baby up in a sterile environment with sterile food then that baby would be at serious disadvantage if ever exposed to the real world. Urine in the bladder is a sterile product or is mostly safe in terms of transmitting infection. As urine exits it may pick up germs if you have urethra infections.

    How often do people engage in fellatio or cunnilingus and get sick from it? Yet the amount of germs that you are exposed to is many times greater than you would get from not washing your hands after going to the toilet. If you engage in oral sex but are obsessive about hand washing, then are you being inconsistent?

    So what if studies show lots of germs on our hands after using the toilet. What we really need to know is the general health level, of a very large sample, of people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. Then compare this to the control group. There are very many different variables in using a toilet and washing your hands, especially when you factor in public toilets and the amount of germs on the taps and doors that you may pick up by touching them. If you urinate in a public toilet, that may be exposed to many different harmful viruses, then are you better off washing your hands when you may have to touch the tap or door before exiting or are you better off leaving without touching anything? How many germs migrate from your anus to your genitals during the day?

    What would be more beneficial to stop the spread of the swine flu, wearing quality face masks or washing your hands?

  75. I always wondered why most public loo’s have doors that swing in. It would seem to go against all health and fire rules. (Maybe because inbound traffic is in a greater hurry?)

  76. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    of the remaining 25%, the majority is composed of live and dead bacteria

    I’m constantly amazed by how communal and individual we are as organism.

    – Eukaryotes all have at least mitochondrial organelles, with their own remnant DNA, and the rest migrated to the nucleus and still active. The original genome is likely heavily augmented.

    – A few percent of our genome consists of retroviral genes that got stuck in our germ line. Some of it is used too, as for example the viral genes that blocks the mother immune system from killing the fetus at the placental interface in humans.

    – IIRC, a mere 1-5 % of the body’s genome diversification consists of human DNA, the rest is mainly gut bacterial genomes.

    – Craig Venter has a talk on the web where he IIRC describes our nutrients as consisting of ~10 % bacterial heritage. [I’m not sure what it means exactly. Perhaps he has compared nutrient pieces of proteins in our blood stream against a gut mass genome sequencing.] Since each individual gut population is unique, I assume it means that part of our food may be unique, maybe measurably so.

    [And it is a hilarious statement on how preposterous anti-vaxxers are. If it is correct, and I don’t make a mistake: by the time children get vaccinated, their daily load of foreign antigens, simply by feeding on anything, is hugely larger than a vaccine load in diversity and amount.]

    – And on top of that load of external genes, some which aren’t shared, IIRC each individual comes with ~ 100 unique mutations.

    seriously. can someone give me a real reason?

    could you advise how washing dead bacteria away once or twice a day is to help with flu (a virus)?

    See my comments on efficiency of hand-washing agencies when they get out of moderation (for their links to references).

    Meanwhile, they can roughly be summed up as:

    As all washing, plain rinsing and/or drying (scrub drying, not so much air dryers) are efficient means of removing infectious agents by observation. That, combined with the reportedly fact that your fingers are among the dirtiest places on (if not in) your body after touching sundry surfaces, is why you are recommended to rinse and dry before touching yourself for some purpose.

    And, of course, after any visit to a communal bath room, whatever the purpose.

    [Now, if you don’t like the idea of having your home accumulate fecal matter, it could be a good idea to always wash after visiting a bath room. See the reference that used viruses in fecal matter to measure washing efficiency. Fecal matter is dragged around same as any dirt.]

  77. Matt

    Here’s a post from the Effect Measure science blog from late 2006 about our understanding of how flu viruses spread:

    http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2006/11/how_does_flu_spread.php

    Anyone have anything more up-to-date?

    My executive summary of the blog posting: We don’t know how flu viruses spread. Inhaled aerosols looks like a promising candidate though, large droplets is another possibility. In either case hand-washing will have a minimal effect on the spread of flu. The general message is that we need to do more research!

    Hand washing is still important though, as however flu itself spreads, we know that other nasty diseases spread via hand contact.

    My (completely amateur) understanding is that aerosols can potentially travel a long distance, so it’s not just a case of people sneezing “in your face”. Also, face masks are not especially useful against aerosol particles as they are so small (unlike large droplets).

    Re: anti-bacterial soap. (Anecdote alert!) I have heard (on the Internet) that the usefulness of these against viruses depends on the active ingredient. E.g. if they are alcohol-based then they should have some effect on bacteria, viruses and fungi. There might be some difference in active ingredients between products calling themselves “anti-bacterial” and “hand sanitizer”, though such naming might depend on marketing, and might differ from country to country.

    I do worry that low-dose usage of anti-bacterial products is promoting the evolution of resistant strains which would then be harder to treat if they were disease-causing.

    Also, the skin is an ecosystem of competing organisms. Wipe out the bacteria, and the fungi may find it a whole lot easier to get established.

    We need reseach here – not anecdote, not blindly repeating accepted truths, and definitely not marketing claims from companies trying to sell you their amazing disease-preventing goo.

  78. Dr. Kate

    For a long time, I’ve wondered whether the wash-your-hands-after-using-the-loo thing is really about getting rid of fecal bacteria, or about getting rid of germs in general. I mean, seriously: you use the loo, you wipe. Unless you miss, chances are the only surface your hands actually touch is the toilet paper. Bacteria and viruses aren’t like fleas–they can’t jump. As far as I know, actual physical contact is required to transfer them. If you don’t touch your junk, it’s not possible for critters there to move onto your hands.

    That said, I do think there are enough studies done about the efficacy of regular handwashing in preventing the spread of disease that washing one’s hands after using the loo is a good idea. But I’d be very interested in any studies done on washing hands after the loo vs. washing hands in general on a regular basis, not correlated to toilet use. I.e., if I normally potty 5 times a day, would I get equivalent disease prevention effects if I just washed my hands at a random 5 times, but not necessarily after I use the john? I’m inclined to think that would be the case–I think the main benefit from washing your hands after using the toilet is that you wash off all the critters that have accumulated on your hands since the last time you washed them–only a fraction of which germs are actually from using the bathroom.

  79. I may never eat pork again after reading the Rolling Stone article. I guess some humans (and their companies) will never rise above common decency. These pig factories have been polluting for years but as long as they line the politicians pockets they can do as they please. Now we have exported their stupidity.

  80. LukeL

    I remember reading a report where a doctor said the best thing to do is was your face as well, wash the area around your nostrils and your ears as well, also don’t overly clean your ears as wax is meant to trap viruses and bacteria.

  81. CryoTank

    Thanks for mentioning Semmelweis, Dr. Phil. I’m kinda proud of him. But I’m equally ashamed of how he was treated here in Vienna by his stuffed colleagues :(

    Everytime I’m on the loo and some guy rushes out the door without washing his hands, it makes me want to be like House.

  82. IVAN3MAN

    As a British citizen, one thing that has always puzzled me about Americans: Why do you lot refer to the W.C. as the “bathroom” when there is no ‘bath’ in there?

  83. Dawn

    @IVAN3MAN: For most of us Americans, there is a “bath” (and/or shower) in the bathroom, along with the toilet and sink. Bathrooms without a bath/shower are, in real estate terms here, “half-baths”, which I guess would correlate to your W.C. But it is just a verbal habit, I would guess. Few bathrooms in the work environment have bathing facilities (although I have worked a few places where they did), but they are just all called the same name.

  84. IVAN3MAN

    Oh yeah, I forgot another odd word that Americans use when referring to the lavatory: “restroom” — is there a bed in there, or what?!

  85. IVAN3MAN

    @ Dawn,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

    @ Dr. Kate:

    For a long time, I’ve wondered whether the wash-your-hands-after-using-the-loo thing is really about getting rid of fecal bacteria, or about getting rid of germs in general. I mean, seriously: you use the loo, you wipe. Unless you miss, chances are the only surface your hands actually touch is the toilet paper. Bacteria and viruses aren’t like fleas–they can’t jump. As far as I know, actual physical contact is required to transfer them. If you don’t touch your junk, it’s not possible for critters there to move onto your hands.

    This reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld: “The Pie”; Jerry, while out to dinner with his new girlfriend, notices that Poppy, the Chef/owner of the restaurant and the father of his girlfriend, doesn’t wash his hands after using the toilet for ‘number two’. Consequently, Jerry refuses to eat the meal prepared by him!

    Jerry:

    A chef who doesn’t wash [his hands] is like a cop who steals. It’s a cry for help. He wants to get caught.

  86. Matt T

    @IVAN3MAN, re restrooms:

    If you’re not finding it restful, you’re just not doing it right!

  87. DAV

    So what comes out of the digestive tract of a healthy human becomes dangerous to the same human when re-introduced? Hmmmm. I wonder why. Seems that hand washing after defecation is more community protection than self protection.

  88. Erasmussimo

    I have read through all these comments and found only one indirect reference to what I think is a factor worthy of consideration. When I urinate, I usually don’t pee on my fingers. So why should I wash my hands afterwards? Do we really think that bacteria from the anus make the long trek to the penis? If so, why stop there? Why not keep going all the way up to the mouth? I wash my hands carefully after defecating, but do not bother after urinating unless something goes wrong. Am I a mass murderer?

  89. BJN

    @DAV

    “Seems that hand washing after defecation is more community protection than self protection.”

    Uh, yeah. You have a problem with that?

    Unless you can get into a public restroom, achieve your task, and exit without making contact with the facilities with any part of yourself, it’s hard to imagine how you can avoid contact with other people’s flora.

    I recall a discussion on hand washing that the mechanical act of scrubbing your hands and wiping them on a towel is the most important factor of controlling viral contamination.

  90. From PubMed Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses: a systematic review by Jefferson, T et al

    “…..The highest quality cluster randomised trials suggest that the spread of respiratory viruses into the community can be prevented by intervening with hygienic measures aimed at younger children. Meta-analysis of six case-control studies suggests that physical measures are highly effective in preventing the spread of SARS: handwashing more than 10 times daily (odds ratio 0.45, 95% confidence interval 0.36 to 0.57; number needed to treat=4, 95% confidence interval 3.65 to 5.52); wearing masks (0.32, 0.25 to 0.40; NNT=6, 4.54 to 8.03); wearing N95 masks (0.09, 0.03 to 0.30; NNT=3, 2.37 to 4.06); wearing gloves (0.43, 0.29 to 0.65; NNT=5, 4.15 to 15.41); wearing gowns (0.23, 0.14 to 0.37; NNT=5, 3.37 to 7.12); and handwashing, masks, gloves, and gowns combined (0.09, 0.02 to 0.35; NNT=3, 2.66 to 4.97). The incremental effect of adding virucidals or antiseptics to normal handwashing to decrease the spread of respiratory disease remains uncertain…..”

  91. Originally came from BMJ. 2008 Jan 12;336(7635):77-80. Epub 2007 Nov 27

  92. BMJ being the British Medical Journal. :-)

  93. rob

    “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…”

    what they don’t tell you is that the real reason surgery infection is reduced is because of the homeopathic effect of soap! when you use soap and rinse, you remove most, but not all of the soap particles! these particles are called soapons! when you touch your face, you ingest soapons. this stimulates your chakra and chi to set up a counter rotating molecular quantum entagled biomagetoelectrico higgs boson field that purges surgerical nuculer toxins from your aura. voila! you are cured! if it doesn’t work it is because your intrinsic biomechanical wavefunction has odd parity and the soapons tunnel out of your body into the ozone layer. you should hang out with people who are invariant under mirror inversion and watch more t.v.

  94. OK rob, that made me spit soup (not soap) onto my desk. How dare you make me laugh at lunch?!!

  95. DAV

    BJN Says:Uh, yeah. You have a problem with that?

    No. The first step in critical thinking is to question assertions. Do you have a problem with that?

    I’ve quoted the relevant section below and simplified it for you. The point was regarding a person’s own fecal ingestion. If the point was about someone else’s fecal matter then why approach it from perspective of self-ingestion? Obviously not very clearly written.

    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 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 … your fecal bacteria?

    I believe I have made my point.

  96. Ben

    There’s also the issue of the remaining few percent of pathogens. These survived the soap and water, and now have little competition remaining on your hands, and so enjoy an opportunity to multiply more easily.

    There has been considerable press about how using antibacterial soaps leads to the proliferation of superbugs, bugs that don’t respond to antibacterial treatment well, or at all.

    Like most human endeavors, I think this situation isn’t perhaps as clearly defined as we might like it to be. Perhaps washing regularly saves us from 3..4 colds… but will kill us with a flesh-eating monster infection down the road a bit.

    I also agree that comparing inserting bacteria from the environment into the body’s relatively isolated cavities through a gaping wound isn’t exactly a rigorous parallel to handwashing, which, at best, protects us from exposing our mucous membranes and digestive system to some bacteria. These situations are not even remotely similar.

    One last point: I had my gall bladder removed. Great surgeon, good team, etc. Plus I was married to a general surgeon at the time. Consequently I had terrific postop care, lived a spanking clean life, and had the freedom to stay home and heal while taking it easy and reducing my exposure to the outside world. Got a massive wound infection anyway. It was ****ing awful, took many months to overcome. Just pointing out that even great precautions deliver no certainties.

  97. Matthew 15

    15:1 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
    15:2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
    15:3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
    15:4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
    15:5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
    15:6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
    15:7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
    15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

  98. Leviticus 15

    15:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying,
    15:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath a running issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean.
    15:3 And this shall be his uncleanness in his issue: whether his flesh run with his issue, or his flesh be stopped from his issue, it is his uncleanness.
    15:4 Every bed, whereon he lieth that hath the issue, is unclean: and every thing, whereon he sitteth, shall be unclean.
    15:5 And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:6 And he that sitteth on any thing whereon he sat that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:7 And he that toucheth the flesh of him that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:8 And if he that hath the issue spit upon him that is clean; then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:9 And what saddle soever he rideth upon that hath the issue shall be unclean.
    15:10 And whosoever toucheth any thing that was under him shall be unclean until the even: and he that beareth any of those things shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:11 And whomsoever he toucheth that hath the issue, and hath not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:12 And the vessel of earth, that he toucheth which hath the issue, shall be broken: and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
    15:13 And when he that hath an issue is cleansed of his issue; then he shall number to himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean.
    15:14 And on the eighth day he shall take to him two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and give them unto the priest:
    15:15 And the priest shall offer them, the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD for his issue.
    15:16 And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:17 And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:18 The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:19 And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
    15:20 And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.
    15:21 And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:22 And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:23 And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.
    15:24 And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
    15:25 And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.
    15:26 Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation.
    15:27 And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    15:28 But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.
    15:29 And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
    15:30 And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
    15:31 Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.
    15:32 This is the law of him that hath an issue, and of him whose seed goeth from him, and is defiled therewith;
    15:33 And of her that is sick of her flowers, and of him that hath an issue, of the man, and of the woman, and of him that lieth with her that is unclean.

  99. In Neptune time this study is only a year old.

  100. Nakia

    I TOUCHED GOO IN SCHOOL AND IT WAS ON A BANISTER IS THAT THE SWINE FLU NOBODY HAS CAUGHT IT IN OUR SCHOOL I WAS CURIOUS SO I WASHED MY HANDS THREE TIMES CAN YOU JUST HELP ME AND TELL ME IF THATS THE SWINE FLU

  101. Cairnos

    DAV says “So what comes out of the digestive tract of a healthy human becomes dangerous to the same human when re-introduced”

    Ok, this is a WAG but perhaps the problem is not immediate re-introduction but the possibility of later re-introduction after it has had the opportunity to act as a growth medium for other nasties you may have touched afterwards, for instance later you use a keyboard for a few hours, then go to lunch.

  102. Jeffersonian

    Apparently, then, most people weren’t taught not to poop on their hands?
    This has always puzzled me.
    And, according to the door-knob theory, most people need wiping re-training??

  103. Jeffersonian plus one

    In 8th grade science class, we swabbed agar plates with samples that we’d been sent around the school to collect. The teacher told us not to bother with the bathroom. (After the experiment, the teacher said he knew some went in the bathroom, because every year that’s the boys did anyway.) The bathroom plates grew nothing. He told us that assuming the bathroom was the “dirtiest” place in the school was 3rd grade thinking (as in “oh my god, poo poo!”); kinda my reaction to this post (no pooh on you, Phil, if we didn’t enjoy your writing and topic choice we’d be elsewhere).
    But I’m with Torbjohn, exa and others: I wanna see the evidence….

    I think of this every single time I use a public bathroom::
    After you wash your hands, what’s the first thing you have to touch?
    Yup, the dirtiest thing in the room!

    It’s not that I’m not sold on handwashing, and I’ve suffered through a parasitic infection that has a fecal-food route. From what I learned, people don’t wash their hands after they pick up after their dog, you can barely go through a fast food kitchen without seeing somebody touch their drippy nose, young mothers change diapers in oblivion, etc.

  104. Keith

    When I first saw Yahoo news alert for swine flu I thought, “did my ex-girlfriend get sick?”

  105. Cairnos

    @Nakia

    Have you been reading xkcd by any chance?

  106. Allow me to throw my hat into the ring on the “no you DON’T need to wash your hands” side.

    Yes, your private parts can have small concentrations of fecal bacteria on them, and you can pick up small amounts of these bacteria from touching or wiping them. (Even if you were only urinating.)

    But.

    Just how bad ARE fecal bacteria in terms of infectious disease, when compared with all the other skillions of bacteria you come in casual contact with on a regular basis?

  107. @tracer
    As I mentioned above to someone else, you have obviously never picked up a bug that comes from faecal contamination of food. You end up with dysentery and you can die. You can be very ill for months. It can be very distressing to watch someone go through illness from these bugs too. You, the dirty bugger, possibly aren’t going to infect hundreds, although if you work in restaurant you may, but you can kill one person at a time easily enough.

  108. DAV

    Cairnos Says: perhaps the problem is not immediate re-introduction but the possibility of later re-introduction after it has had the opportunity to act as a growth medium for other nasties

    Quite possible I guess. The same has been said about urine. Drinking urine is a survival technique.

    There seems an accepted wisdom that re-ingestion is bad for the re-ingestor but I wonder where that comes from. Is it instinct or does it come from mommy’s “Oh, yuk! Bad! Bad! Bad!”? If it tastes the way it smells — yours, obviously, as mine doesn’t stink ;-) — then it’s a wonder anyone would have experimented with it.

  109. @DAV Drinking urine is a survival technique

    Apparently not.
    http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urophagia#Attempting_survival

    My understanding is urine worsens dehydration.

  110. Kent

    Just heard a lady on CNN (Anderson 360) discussing the dangers of sneezing. Certainly they didn’t cite a source on this, but they claimed that sneezing produces 40,000 small droplets ‘travelling at about a hundred thousand miles per hour’. I’m not sure what the mass expelled from a single sneeze is. But I’d be interested to know what kind of crazy comparisons can come from that :D

  111. Mark Hansen

    @Nakia,
    NO IT PROBABLY ISNT BUT JUST IN CASE ESPECIALLY IF YOURE IN MEXICO YOU SHOULD SEE A DOCTOR.

    Or Cairnos has probably guessed correctly. Either way, you should be covered :)

  112. Miranda

    I still haven’t seen a single decent link to an actual study that clearly shows hand-washing reduces the likelihood of transmission of viruses. I’m a bit disappointed, because for what is usually a fairly refreshingly radical skeptical blog, most people include the BA himself have jumped on this bandwagon via the bacterial transmission route, which does appear to have some validity.

    It could be just me, but I find it a little bit disingenuous to write a post espousing the virtues of hand-washing to prevent the spread of disease with a post title that references swine flu and a post entry that primarly references bacterial diseases.

    All I’m saying is that for all we seem to know, one might better protect themselves from viral diseases by maintaining a strong immune system through healthy eating and exercise, in which case suggesting that hand-washing is a strong preventative is misleading and possibly not even true.

  113. fizzyb

    Miranda, google “hand washing efficacy” I came up with multiple results with links to some interesting studies.

  114. @Miranda
    I still haven’t seen a single decent link to an actual study that clearly shows hand-washing reduces the likelihood of transmission of viruses.

    Okay.
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=182474
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2001109
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2564069

  115. MadScientist

    I’ve been trying all week to get e.coli from cow poo, but no such luck – just a lot of ‘fiber’ from the cow’s diet. No luck catching any diseases from the cows either. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get some tapeworm. Oh, I’ve picked up a ‘rural scent’ – or so people tell me; I can’t smell a thing. I’ll probably catch something nasty when I return to the filthy city though.

    @Kent: Some sneeze – at a hundred thousand miles an hour, how far away are those folks blown each time they sneeze?

  116. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Sciencegodess, Shane, et al:

    Thanks for the references on the larger question raised.

    [But – funny though how several people just seemed to blank out their existence and continued to pretend that washing doesn’t have an observable effect here. Denialism?]

    Seems that hand washing after defecation is more community protection than self protection.

    I believe that is correct; handwashing before is both, handwashing afterwards is mostly the former.

    But then again, there are parasites that transmit by eggs that you would want to avoid ingesting to keep the infection down. And generally if you are already infected, it will probably help a lot against prolonging the infection.

  117. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Do we really think that bacteria from the anus make the long trek to the penis?

    How would you avoid the probability? It will happen, by particulates in your clothes or by touch transferal (sooner or later).

    Remember, we are discussing empirical transfer (i.e. probabilities et cetera), not anecdotes (“I never make mistakes”, “I’m perfectly clean at all times”, et cetera).

    And urine isn’t guaranteed to be non-infected at all times either, thanks to urinary infections.

    [Fun factoid: as I remember it, they have now found bacterial films that can grow inside urine tracts. So even if healthy urine is essentially sterile, and still a good emergency sterile wash, it is probably not completely so. I hope to be corrected, if I’m wrong on this.]

    Apparently, then, most people weren’t taught not to poop on their hands?’

    As I seem to remember hearing it, there is speculation is that the reason humans find indole and skatole so offensive, as opposed to animals that readily ingest or otherwise use their feces for various reasons, is because feces are harmful to keep around by way of infections.

    Sort of like the way putrescine and cadaverine are thought to be offensive IIRC, except that the actual harm isn’t from keeping cadavers around (except if they died from some types of infection perhaps) but from ingesting them.

    And in most cultures these things have been reinforced to taboos of several kinds. Again, as I seem to remember hearing it, there is speculation that many taboos fill useful functions, for example taboos against kinship sex that avoids too much inbreeding.

    Presumably those other animal populations have found the benefits overwhelm the harm for them, for example rabbits having to pass food twice in order to extract necessary nutrients.

  118. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    these particles are called soapons … stimulates your chakra and chi

    Hmm. Are they related to karate stimulating chi (ki) particles wax-ons (with anti-particles wax-offs) and ki-aions (a type of aionized phonon pseudo-charge)?

    @ Jpo:

    Torbjohn

    Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on a misspelling, but that looks like it could be a misreading.

    So, if you don’t mind: the way for a non-swede to think of my name is to try to remember that “björn” is swedish for bear. So Torbjörn is “Tor-björn” – read “Thor-Bear” in english. In fact, that is what I get from most visitors anyway. ;-)

    [Though actually the above works quite well as a mumbled phonetic, typically an englishman can’t pronounce the foreign “ö” sound but will have to settle for a rapid “oe” at best anyway. So perhaps I’m doing you a disservice.]

  119. bob

    @Rev. I. P. Freeley

    Why is it, that after years of translating, tweaking and editing the texts that have become known as the Bible, it is now de rigeur to quote from it in incredibly hard to read psuedo-1800s English?

  120. @bob

    I’m no bible scholar but it’s probably 17th century, KJV, and that’s how they talketh then. I think it is also the purty one.

    http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com

  121. DAV

    Shane Says: Apparently not.

    Thanks however my point was its relatively disease free potability (if consumed immediately). It has been used as a survival technique but I wasn’t recommending it.

  122. Ben

    Bob asks:

    Why is it, that after years of translating, tweaking and editing the texts that have become known as the Bible, it is now de rigeur to quote from it in incredibly hard to read psuedo-1800s English?

    Because the KJV, despite the antiquated English, is agreed by most biblical scholars to be a very accurate translation of the 5,000 or so manuscripts that comprise the historical record of the copying process that brought the NT forward from its obscured beginnings in 150…250 AD or so.

    It is both pleasant to read, and IMHO, carries an inbuilt reminder that the text is fairly old in the form of the older English forms within. Something I like to keep in mind when I’m laughing out loud over 2000-year old sheepherder hospitality and codified superstition.

    In any case, you shouldn’t assume that just because modern English is the medium, that the translation is better than the KJV. I’ve read several modern translations, and again, IMHO, they’re very poor compared to the KJV; one strong indicator of poor translation in the modern English versions is that they are very different from each other.

  123. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Thanks for the references on the larger question raised.

    … except that in closer inspection the first of Shane’s links doesn’t really treat successful transmission, i.e. infectiousness, which I was for some reason reading into that specific question. It is the same paper I linked to previously.

  124. Steve H

    I just luvs that I have the poison ivy on my face! What timing. Hey Torbjorn, does Sweden have poisonous plants? I need a good reason to move there.

  125. @ Matt:

    That Straight Dope article was actually the first thing that got me thinking “the risk factors from not washing your hands after going to the bathroom have GOT to be exaggerated.” Not washing your hands after urinating is a death sentence, but engaging in oral sex with the very same body parts is a small enough infectious risk to be acceptable? Come ON!

    And no, Shane, I have never picked up a bug that comes from faecal contamination of food — because the incidence of such infection is so low. How many people ate food prepared by the same person as your partner, but DIDN’T get Shigella? Yes, if you’re going to be preparing food for other people to eat, and touching that food with your bare hands in the process, then washing your hands after using the bathroom makes good sense. But I have yet to hear of a single instance of Shigella contracted from a dirty doorknob.

  126. Ernest

    Here’s some common sense from the good doctor on the swine flu hype:

    http://informationclearinghouse.info/article22507.htm

  127. @tracer
    I’d suggest more people eat food more often on a daily basis than engage in oral sex. The country you’re in eating will make a difference too. Another possibility is you may know where your oral sex partner has just been or how hygienic they are. No such luck when it comes to who prepares your food.
    And, it depends who touches the doorknob I guess.

    I know of one other person who didn’t get sick too. Me. I think I didn’t get sick because I drank beer. Did a straw poll once when travelling to see who got sick and who didn’t. Beer drinkers don’t get sick as often. Funny that. ;-)

  128. SionH

    Given that most people use TP rather than their hands to wipe their arses with and that penises are, for most men at least, rather precious, and are kept scrupulously clean through daily showering, I wonder how bad not washing can be (before I get flamed, I AGREE that there is a risk, sheesh!) compared to the other things we touch regularly. I’m particularly thinking of currency.
    It’s like the bleach sellers trying to scare us with the “there are more germs on your chopping board than on your toilet seat” ploy. Well, duh!
    The only thing that touches my toilet seat are my bum cheeks, and they are showered daily, then protected from the world at large by clean clothing. My hands, on the other hand (!), touch my keyboard, dog, cat, shoes, car, chopping board, etc. Of course there will be more germs on the chopping board. Which is why I clean it before use.
    The need to raise the toilet seat comparison seems to me to be a rather large straw man argument.

  129. Hands-On Fun Keeps Kids Healthy

    Parents, teachers, child care providers urged to get kids washing their hands.

    Bozeman, Mont., 01 May, 2009 – From swine flu to the common cold, hand washing is the simplest, most effective way of preventing germs from spreading. According to both the World Heath Organization and the Center for Disease Control, the first and most important way to prevent infection and illness is to wash your hands.

    But how do you get your kids to properly wash their hands? Sing! To get kids focused on hand washing, and empower them to take responsibility for their health, Project WET created the Hand Washing How-To activity. Kids sing the Hand Washing Song: 20 seconds of soap, water and brisk rubbing rinse the dirt and germs away—including those that may transmit swine flu and other infections.

    Hand Washing Song (sung to tune of Frère Jacques) Lather with soap Rub your palms together Now the backs Of your hands Interlace your fingers Cleaning in between them Now the thumbs Clean your nails.

    In the activity kids rate the merits of soap, brisk rubbing and rinsing with clean water and practice their hand-washing technique. They are reminded of the “before” and “after” of hand washing. Wash your hands before preparing food, eating, or going to bed, and after using the toilet, coughing or sneezing into hands, or blowing your nose.

    Project WET is making Hand Washing How-To available to teachers, community educators (leaders of Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H, etc.), parents, day-care and after-school providers on its web site and encourages everyone who works with children to conduct this activity as soon as possible.

    Hand Washing How-To is important for schools, communities and families, and enables adults to lead by example.

    To download Hand Washing How-To, visit http://projectwet.org/project-wet-news-events/blog_entry/hand-washing/.

    # # #

    About Project WET
    Through the publication and distribution of water resource materials, facilitation of workshops on diverse water topics, coordination of community water events and creation of a global network of water professionals, educators and scientists, Project WET is teaching the world about water. Through education, Project WET believes that individuals can be empowered to take action and develop sustainable solutions to community water resource issues. Learn more at http://www.projectwet.org.

    For More Information, Contact
    Stephanie Kaleva, Project WET Foundation
    406-585-4115
    stephanie.kaleva@projectwet.org

  130. h-jg

    What I think is a genius invention atm are the bathrooms that have automatic doors, meaning there is no chance of getting germs on your freshly cleaned hands by having to push open the door on your way out. More places should think about investing in these

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