Hand washing denialists

By Phil Plait | May 1, 2009 1:06 pm

In my post the other day about how simply washing your hands can prevent a lot of disease transmission, a scary number of people felt the need to leave comments proudly proclaiming how they don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and how they don’t get sick.

To those disgusting people, I say: blecccchhhh and ewwwww.

But seriously, that’s really bad logic. First, this isn’t about you, it’s about the people who use the bathroom or other utensils after you do; they are the ones getting your germs on and in their bodies. Second, your stories are anecdotal, and not based on real data. Third, it’s a fallacy: just because you haven’t gotten sick doesn’t mean you can’t. You need that real data.

So here it is: a meta-analysis of studies of people who washed their hands with soap versus those who didn’t shows that washing with soap can reduce the risk of intestinal infections and diarrhea by about 50%! When extrapolated over the population, simply washing hands with soap and water could save one million lives over the globe.

So you can brag all you want about how you just love getting feces on your fingers and then leaving it all over doorknobs, telephones, pencils, and everything else you touch, but the facts are against you.

Wash your hands. The life you save may be your own, but it may also be that of someone you love.

Tip o’ the toilet seat to the ever-hygienic Ben Goldacre.

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Comments (156)

Links to this Post

  1. More denialists « A Man With A Ph.D. | May 2, 2009
  1. Jim Ernst

    That is a disturbing picture.

    (which is a good thing)

  2. RawheaD

    Handwashing “denialists”…. ewwwwwwwwwwwwww.

    As a side-note. Every time I go into a restaurant’s bathroom that has a sign inside saying “All employees must wash their hands before returning to the restaurant” I mutter to myself “All the customers should do the same, too!” :-)

  3. Cheyenne

    “Hand washing denialists” – these people exist?! There is a group of denialists for every conceivable thing out there.

    Soap and water is important. But I also keep a little bottle of alcohol gel in my car and one in my work bag. OK it’s ancedotal and not scientific but I haven’t gotten sick in about 5 years (not even a cold). I think using the gel a couple of times a day has possibly protected me from some nasty germs.

    Not the airborne ones of course though. That is what the scuba tank is for whenever I leave my apartment.

  4. Cheyenne

    You know what would be a great cartoon for this (that I’m pretty sure can’t be posted because of copyright) is the Far Side one where the guy walks out of the restaurant bathroom and lights and sirens go off with the message “Did Not Wash Hands!” as everybody turns around.

  5. bg Porter

    We actually had to argue with the principal at our local elementary school to have our son be allowed to wash his hands before lunch. It’s better now, but for most of that first year, my son was the only kid who washed his hands before eating (which was immediately after outdoor recess…)

    The concern was that having all those kids in the bathroom at once would be a crowd control problem. Better to play in the dirt and then eat, I guess.

  6. numsix

    I wonder if there is a Homeopathic solution to protect against these kinds of germs?
    And if so, I wonder if it says / would say to use with soap?

    Just random thoughts.

    I work in an environment that puts me in contact with lots of people. I shake a lot of hands. I hope people are washing their hands!

  7. I guess I can be thankful that CENTAF blocks Flickr?

    Considering the conditions we live in here at “The Deid”, I make sure to wash my hands often. Seen the Aeromedical Squadron have to take care of a few too many people sick for very preventable reasons…

  8. Handwashing denialist who are proud of it?

    I hope they never facepalm themselves.

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Meta-analysis?! Blecccchhhh and ewwwww.

    But seriously, folks, do anyone have a reference to a meta-analysis that have survived testing?

    If not, I will still consider a number of smaller studies individually over a meta-analysis any day.

    (And so far the smaller studies all point to that hand washing is effective.)

    [Oh man, I’m so gonna get it if I meet up with a former girl friend of mine. She worked with that stuff.

    Well, actually, come to think of it, she didn’t trust it at the time while I did without any evidence whatsoever. (She was simply paid to do that study.) Sigh, [swoon]she was always smarter than me[/swoon].]

  10. Jeff Fite

    @numsix:

    Homeopathic hand-washing uses water and a teeny-tiny bit of soap.

    Homeopathic hand-wringing…feh.

  11. ccpetersen

    I think we’re seeing the devolution of humanity among some folks who don’t want anybody to even suggest a cleaner, healthier life. What’s next? defense of poo-flinging?

    sheesh.

  12. @ccpetersen

    What’s next? defense of poo-flinging?

    Possibly, but first we need to go through the phase where people claim that bathing causes disease.

  13. The Other Ian

    Hey, I’m not touching those sink handles; they’re probably covered in germs from that person who just used it to wash his hands!

    Although, I guess that it’s one of those motion-detecting sinks, I really have no excuse.

  14. Tim G

    I’ll wash my hands frequently and thoroughly you agree that we become blood brothers.

  15. Anne

    My students have become fanatical hand-washers and Purell users. If only the custodians would wash the stairway bannisters as often as they do the windows…

  16. ccpetersen asked:

    What’s next? defense of poo-flinging?

    I believe “Moderate” has already broached this state of affairs in the Why Evolution is True thread. Monkeys flinging poo, to be precise.

    And don’t ask about the lumps-of-coal-in-the-rectum threat. Seriously. Don’t ask.

  17. usagi

    Fraking typical “It’s all about me!!!!” response. Listen up, Typhoid Mary… You may never get sick. Yay, you. Here’s hoping your megapowerful immune system becomes a dominant trait (or your dumb luck holds). Meantime, you’re in a community of other humans not so blessed. So, unless you like the power trip of being able to sicken and kill people just by dragging your pathogen carrying self through the public square, help save the lives of those around you and wash your damn hands!

  18. nichole

    I heard about this very topic on Science Friday once. The doctor guy on there said that anti-bacterial soap and alcohol gels were both stupid, because they don’t kill the common cold virus. The common cold virus is actually excited by alcohol.

    However, washing your hands with soap was still recommended. You don’t need to kill them, just rubbing your hands under running water rinses them off and soap encourages you to rub your hands.

    Yay, science!

  19. Sili

    Another anecdatum – this Winter I did my best not to touch doorhandles. I used my sleeve to cover my hand. (And of course I washed my hands regularly throughout the day.) And I work at a school.

    No flu for me. Just a slightly sore throat around Christmas – which may (or may not) be attributable to the trainride to get to my sister’s.

    Some people are disgusting. Now I’ll forever worry about shaking hands.

  20. Joe Meils

    Note to self: If I ever meet Phil, lead with my RIGHT hand…

  21. Wow, this is going to save me a lot of money! I’ve been paying a guy to follow me around and “assist” so I don’t actually touch anything when going to the bathroom. Why must I overcomplicate everything?

  22. Jon B

    But Phil — frequent hand-washing cause autism. I know it’s true because some celebrity told me so!

  23. Davidlpf

    Actually homeopathic doctors make a soap by diluting a tiny bit of dirt (like cures like) with swimming pool of water.

  24. drow

    people not washing their hands certainly indicates that we’re not that far evolved from poo-flinging monkeys.

  25. BMcP

    WTF, what narcissistic idiots not wash their hands after using the bathroom? Is the some machismo thing?

  26. I would imagine they look something like you would see if you click my name.

  27. mapnut

    You might be surprised, but there’s a Christian connection (good thing this isn’t the Forum). Jesus stated very clearly (I forget chapter and verse, but I’m sure someone will look it up before I get back here) that it’s not really important to wash your hands before eating; it’s much more important to cleanse your soul. I wondered when I saw it why that wasn’t a verse you hear quoted very often.

  28. Michelle

    I’m not even sure I wanna bring in the life-saving argument in this… Or even the germs.

    Toilet paper… Isn’t a barrier. It’s paper. It soaks. By not washing your hands, if I shake your hand I touch (very minimalistic residues of) your pee or whatever else you wiped. I DON’T WANNA.

  29. Hand washing denialists…

    *Sigh*

    Can we just blow up the world and start over?

    Please?

    Seriously though, such people surely know George Carlin was joking. Right? Anyone?

  30. Andrew

    Two Alums from rival colleges are in the bathroom at half time during the Big Game. Rival College A Alum notices that Rival College B Alum is about to leave without washing his hands. Rival College A Alum shouts “Hey, didn’t they teach you to wash your hands at Rival College B?” Rival College B Alum responds “That may be what they teach at Rival College A, but at Rival College B they taught us not to piss on our hands.”

    A Alum – who is in the bathroom at the Big Game between Rival Colleges A and B for some reason – interjects “At they kind of assumed that we had been potty trained around Kindergarten.”

  31. Argo

    Let me explain the denialist rationale – which, BTW, does have some experimental support. The skin has a layer of beneficial natural bacteria. Potential pathogens typically fail to produce infections because they cannot generate a large enough population to out-compete the natural bacteria. The use of anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers indiscriminately kill much of the natural bacterial population. This greatly reduces the natural defenses of the skin if there is exposure to a pathogen. The conclusion is that it’s only best to wash if the expected level of recent contamination is significantly higher than what will be experienced after washing (when the skin will be more vulnerable). Despite what is commonly believed, restrooms are relatively low-risk environments compared to doorknobs and computer keyboards.

  32. Andrew

    Looks like the last paragraph got mangled by an html filter, it was supposed to be:

    A [insert your college here] Alum – who is in the bathroom at the Big Game between Rival Colleges A and B for some reason – interjects “At [insert your college here] they kind of assumed that we had been potty trained around Kindergarten.”

  33. Chris C.

    I wonder what kind of soap gets the blood of a million people off your hands.

  34. This is very personal to me. In the past two years, I have had a total of 9 MRSA infections. The first was in both eyes, followed by a second in both eyes. Next, several months later, a major infection in my ears. I have lost significant hearing in my left ear, and the nerves in my face around the left eye are damaged. I had one more in my ears, followed by several boil type outbreaks on my face, which have left several scars. This past three weeks, I have had 2 more. One on my upper lip, which then spread into my eyes, again. These infections are incredibly painful, and in my case, required the use of narcotic pain killers to deal with that, as well as 2 weeks of IV anti-biotics every 12 hours.

    Finally, the doctor is sending me to an infectious disease specialist in June. They believe the strain has colonized my body somehow. I have no clue as to how I got the original infection, since I am a very clean person, and always make sure I wash my hands. However, I have followed many a person out of a public washroom that has not bothered to wash their hands, or given them just a light dip under the tap.

    Folks, MRSA is a dangerous form of Staph. It can kill you. It may only start out as a small pimple, as did my last bout, but it rapidly (in my case, overnight), grows into a very painful, boil like feature. It can enter through the smallest cut. If you have anything like a cut, or boil that is rapidly growing, and very painful, DO NOT try to treat it yourself! This can push the infection deeper, and into your bloodstream, or other organs. Go to you doctor immediately!

    In my case, I am hoping that the specialist can give me some answers. Every time I have a bump on my face, or anywhere else, I am concerned that it may be another infection. With that worry, comes the added stress of knowing that the options of antibiotics for me are getting limited.

    Sorry for the rant, everyone, but this is serious business! Please WASH YOUR HANDS!!! You may be saving your own life, or the life of someone else. For the boneheads that do not wash your hands, and if I see you in a public restroom, I will single you out!

  35. godless one

    Does everybody on here have the fear of germs or something? People have freedom in this country. If they don’t want to wash their hands that’s their business I’m not going to cry over it. It’s not against the law for the general public to not wash their hands. This swine flu is blown way out of proportion and even this rant of an article on hand washing. I’m not going to worry about every single microbe that I’m in contact with because I’m sure that would number in the millions. I don’t live in fear.

  36. bassmanpete

    Additional germ fighting advice can be found here: http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/health1/sneeze-into-crook-of-elbow-not-hands-to-stop-your-cold-from-spreading_1004493.html

    I sell books at weekend outdoor markets here in Far North Queensland. It’s horrifying to see the number of people who sneeze into their hands and then pick up a book/books. Some of them don’t even bother to use their hands or turn away but just sneeze all over the books. Yuk! I wash my hands so often I’m surprised they haven’t eroded away.

  37. matteus

    This is the procedure I follow, just in case of non-hand wipers, which I observe frequently at work being middle-aged men, mostly:

    1. Turn on water.
    2. Wash with soap.
    3. Turn off water with elbow (which avoids me bring any germs near my face).
    4. Dry hands.

    Every modern public bathroom nowadays should have: motion-sensing faucet and soap dispenser, motion-sensing paper towel dispenser or dryer, and doors that open outwards so you don’t have to use your hands to go through them.

  38. Beelzebud

    Why is it that so many people seem to be very proud of being ignorant?

  39. HP

    I think one source of miscommunication is that many people think washing hands after using the bathroom has something to do with poop and pee. The truth is, your own poop and pee is no threat to you, and not really a threat to others unless you have some kind of active infection. It may be gross and smelly, but it’s not generally dangerous.

    Rather, hand-washing in general is a great way to limit the spread of germs from any number of sources.

    – You should wash your hands several times throughout the day.
    – You already go to the bathroom several times throughout the day.
    – The bathroom is where the soap and water is.

    Technically, you could wash your hands several times a day completely independently of your trips to the bathroom, and it would have the same effect. But people tend to forget things. So, by associating hand-washing with #s 1 and 2, you’re more likely to adequately wash your hands to limit the spread of pathogens.

  40. jest

    If I’m at some sort of event where there’s a lot of shaking of hands, I will go to the bathroom and wash my hands before eating. Or if I go shopping, and have been pushing a cart, or handling money. Same thing. I started ramping up this habit a couple years ago and as a result, I have been sick FAR less than I had been in previous years.

  41. This reminds me of my manager. I work at a supermarket, and I always thoroughly wash my hands after using the restroom. One day, he’s also in there, and he makes fun of me for doing so. I’m thinking, “um, it’s the LAW.” And also the fact of THE GERMS. What made it particularly insane was the fact that the sign TELLING employees to wash their hands was literally SIX INCHES away from my left shoulder.

  42. Daniel Kirk

    Three points:

    First — seriously, people, stop propagating the word “denialist” — “denier” works just fine, and it happens to have the added benefit of actually being a real word instead of something coined by somebody who obviously had the literacy level of a third grader.

    Second: Turning these people into a philosophical ‘opposition’ sets you, by default, into a camp of ‘gullible-ists’. You REALLY don’t want to do that. Call them uneducated, call them ignorant, call them raving morons and lunatics, but DO NOT give them an ‘ism’ to rally behind.

    Third and finally — ew. SO ew. An Ew convoy comprised of ew wagons drawn by thoroughbred ew horses with a load of ew bound for Ewville. Ew.

  43. @ Jest:

    Yes! Wash after handling money! Nasty, dirty money stuffed into sweaty trouser pockets and been-who-knows-where money!

    Better to be rid of all money, in fact. Send it to me, and I will gladly dispose of it properly.

    Ignore Nigerian email address.

  44. mk

    “And don’t ask about the lumps-of-coal-in-the-rectum threat. Seriously. Don’t ask.”

    Hey… I think I resemble that remark! ;^}

  45. Jokermage

    I am linking this on Facebook.

  46. mk

    I wonder what kind of soap gets the blood of a million people off your hands.

    Um… dude. Is there something you need to get off your chest?

  47. David

    After going to bathroom to these people lick their hands?

  48. HP:
    Your own Urine is generally sterile, unless you have an infection, however, not so with #2:

    The primary bacteria of the bowel is E. coli. E. coli infections can cause a life-threatening reaction called hemolytic uremic syndrome with kidney failure. Other risks from ingesting fecal matter are hepatitis, salmonella, shigella, giardia, pinworms, and more.

    The point is: WASH your hands when using the crapper

  49. bigjohn756

    I never wash my hands after pooping. I just tell everyone I was eating peanut butter.

  50. Sjoerd

    Luckily i have a very steady poop schedule that allows me to poop right before taking a shower. Easier with the wiping as well.

  51. Nice rebuttal.

    Let me add a rebuttal to some of the comments, though:

    Anecdotes about how your life has changed since you started washing regularly are no more helpful or informative than the anecdotes to which Phil referred. For example, I’ve been in the habit of washing my hands often since childhood (thank you, Mom!) and I seem to get every cold, flu, and infection most years. I’m probably exposed to more since I both have kids and teach college – I share surfaces and air with hundreds of people every day.

    Data are data; they are not good or bad, real or imagined. But anecdotes are selective data points. Systematic observation and statistical comparison are evidence. Not considering evidence because it does not match with your personal experience is both irrational and, in this case, irresponsible.

  52. Dave Morris

    I have two stepsons that live with their father. They openly admit he tells them there is no need to wash their hands. What a moron. Words fail me.

  53. I tend to wash before and after.

    When you’ve just used the bathroom, you’re pretty sure where your hands have been, what they’ve been touching etc.

    But when you walk in, before you touch anything of your own, what were your hands touching? Shake hands with the client? Nab somethign at the vending machine?

    Who knows what you’re about to smear on your most intimate bits.

  54. Just two more notes:
    – meta-analysis is not mega-analysis
    – soap does MUCH more than promote hand-rubbing, but antibacterial additives to soap probably do more harm than good

  55. Damon

    First of all: What is wrong with anecdotal evidence? Since it happened to someone in real life doesn’t it count as data? Yes, it does, and if enough people chime in (as in your comments sections) then it certainly becomes more than just data.

    Secondly, why is this front page news? What does this have to do with bad science? I have never heard of this “anti hand-washers” movement and just because a ton of people responded to your article proclaiming that they DON’T wash their hands (not to mention all the people who say they do but probably don’t) doesn’t make it a global pandemic.

    Telling people they are ignorant and stupid because they are concerned over injecting FOREIGN SUBSTANCES into their children at birth is one thing, but this really goes off the radar, Phil.

  56. I avoid anti-bacterial soaps. Seriously, there’s enough evidence of them causing resistance in bacteria that I don’t think it’s worthwhile. That said normal old soap and hot water are a very good thing and not just after using the bathroom. PLEASE wash your hands if you are going to be handling food and again afterwards if any raw meat was involved. It’s incredibly selfish to go spreading germs around to other people just because you think you have a super immune system, not everyone does.

  57. Jesus, you sound like a bit OCD, a clean-freak. Whilst I agree, we should wash our hands. Afterall, it’s nice – and our hands smell better afterwards.

    “The life you save may be your own, but it may also be that of someone you love” is hilariously over-the-top.

  58. Godless One:
    I think you need to wake up! It is not just the Swine Flu we are talking about! The dangers of MRSA, at least at this point, far outweigh the dangers of Swine Flu, here in Canada and the States. That IS a bacteria that you can easily pick up from a door handle! Read my post above! Believe me, if you had been through what I have in the past month, your opinion would quickly change!

    BTW, it’s not about fear, it’s basic common sense. These viruses and bacteria have, dare I say it, evolved very quickly to be able to fight off many of our anti-biotics. In fact, many of the anti-biotics I have been given in the past, because of a compromised immune system, much of the front line stuff does not work anymore. Why should my life be put at risk because some idiot enjoys the freedom of not washing his hands!

  59. Jon B

    Anti-bacterial soaps: Accelerated evolution in a bottle and, unfortunately, not in a good way. Regular soap and water does the job just as well without culling out the weaklings and creating super bacteria.

  60. Steven

    Check this out at about 1 min 30…. I think every public toilet should have it’s own mob 😀

    http://tiny.cc/45rME

  61. You know, a friend of mine once countered my objection to her not washing her hands after a bathroom visit with ‘but it’s my own germ. I can’t get sick from it since it came from my own body.’

    Apparently it wasn’t well taught in school that germs are location specific. A certain type of bacteria can feel at home in the colon, but wreak havoc when it is deposited elsewhere in the body, for example. There is simply no good justification at all for refusing to wash ones’ hands after using the toillie. I’m amazed that people would actually comment to brag about such a poor hygiene. Ewwwwww! :oP

  62. As of 2005, AIDS killed just over 17,000 Americans. MRSA killed over 19,000. For those that scream Phil is taking this too far, answer this: If you have multiple sex partners, of either the same sex, or opposite sex, do you practice safe sex? (I’m assuming most do. Hell even gay bath-houses have signs posted everywhere!)

    So, why are you upset that people are advocating hand-washing after using the bathroom. AIDS kills 17,000. MRSA kills 19,000. That number will jump each year. Washing hands can cut that number significantly.

  63. IVAN3MAN

    godless one:

    Does everybody on here have the fear of germs or something? People have freedom in this country. If they don’t want to wash their hands that’s their business I’m not going to cry over it. […] I don’t live in fear.

    Then you’ll have no fear being married to this woman:

    Burned alive for “not washing feet”*

    BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese bride burned her new husband to death after he got into bed after a drunken argument without washing his feet, state media reported on Wednesday.

    “Wang and his wife, Luo, were married on February 2. The couple, however, frequently fought over trivial things while still on their honeymoon,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted a local newspaper as saying.

    The couple, from the central province of Hubei, had another fight on the night of March 4, “and in frustration they together drank a bottle of liquor to ease their anger.”

    “At about 10 p.m., Luo watched her husband get into bed without cleaning or washing his feet. In a fit of anger and intoxication, she set fire to the sheet he was sleeping in,” the report said.

    “When he awoke, the two began fighting before a very drunk Wang collapsed. As fire engulfed the bedroom. Luo escaped to the living room, leaving her other half to burn,” it added.

    The woman has been arrested, Xinhua said.


    *Source: reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSGOR25682020080312

  64. Alan French

    Just be sure to catch the folks who don’t wash their hands right after their annual bath.

    Clear skies, Alan

  65. Godless one: I don’t live in fear, either, but that doesn’t mean I’m particularly inclined to ride a bicycle on the interstate during rush hour.

    Living in fear is refusing to leave your house because there’s a suspected case of Swine Flu on the other side of the state. Washing your hands is just basic good sense.

    As for “freedom,” assuming you’re talking about the United States, I’d be curious to know which part of the bill of rights you think you’re referring to. We do not, in fact, have the right to take actions that get other people sick. That’s why Typhoid Mary spent her later years incarcerated. That’s why employees are required to wash their hands. That’s why you can be sued–or in some places, even arrested–if you infect someone with an STD you didn’t tell them you had. I’ll grant you that it might be difficult to build a case against someone who infected others through failing to wash his hands, but that doesn’t mean he’s “free” to do it.

  66. Hoonser

    Are you kidding me? People don’t still don’t wash their hands? I went to elementary school back in the dark ages of the 90’s and even in those primitive times they made us all line up to wash our hands at the big sink after recess and before lunch.

  67. Michigan Gardener

    Yeesh these people who don’t wash their hands are absolutely DISGUSTING! When you go to the bathroom you get fecal matter and/or urine on your hands, and you don’t think you need to WASH IT OFF?! What the hell is wrong with you people? You zip up your pants afterwards, you straighten your collar during the day, tie your shoes, etc. and now your clothes are covered in human waste. You casually scratch an itch on your scalp and now your hair has feces in it. You touch your arm and that’s covered in feces too. Then you touch a phone that others use, a keyboard, a desktop, a pen and doorknobs, and those surfaces now have your waste on them. Other people touch those surfaces and yep now they’re covered in your fecal matter. Then you go home and your spouse runs his/her fingers through your hair and your kids climb on you lap and they too are covered in your crap. You spend literally all day wallowing in your own feces and urine and you’re OKAY with that?

    What do you filthy disgusting pigs do when you use a public bathroom that requires you to touch the toilet handle to flush? Do you leave it unflushed or use your foot? If you avoid touching it with your hands, why? You obviously think it’s no big deal to touch other people’s urine and feces, so why don’t you just grab the handle with your bare hands? Why don’t you just lick the toilet? It’s a serious question (that none of you disgusting jerks will answer, I’m sure). After all, you think that spreading your urine and feces all over everything you touch all day, including your friends and family members, isn’t at all unsanitary!

    And yes, I’m aware that most people’s hands aren’t literally COVERED in crap after using the bathroom, but bacteria and viruses and very small, and it only takes a small amount to spread them around. Add this to the fact that you use the bathroom several times a day to urinate, and most people defecate at least once a day, sometimes several times a day, and yes, as far as the purpose of spreading germs around, you are covered in crap.

    So, which one of you pigs who doesn’t wash will lick a public toilet?

  68. I really think that the “The Stupid it Burns” cartoon is not displayed nearly as often as it has a right to be. . .

  69. I’ve never heard something so profoundly frightening. People not washing their hands? After going to the loo? I blame the parents.

    If this is a wide-spread problem, when swine flu (or any other flu for that matter) takes hold, it’s going to make short work of those idiots, but it will also take out many sanitary (and sane) people too.

    Come on, this isn’t play school, wash your hands, you might prevent a pandemic.

    Cheers! Ian

  70. Jimmy

    No, Damon, anecdotes do not count as “data”. You seem to imply that if you get a lot of anecdotes together you have a lot of “data” and thus can make some sort of meaningful conclusion. Garbage! Getting together a bunch of anectotes gives you a lot of stories but absolutely no scientific data. Where is your control group? How do you account for inconsistencies? How do you know people are telling you the truth? How do you know if only those with an agenda have come forward with an anecdote? And so on? Anecdotes aren’t data, aren’t science and whether they are one or a million they are just stories.

  71. Bart Mitchell

    Im with JonB on this one. Every case of autism I’ve ever seen was also from a family that promoted hand washing. This is a clear connection that should be looked at.

    Don’t let the Big Soapa companies profit off the ‘washists’ beliefs that using soap and water will prevent the demons from entering your body and causing disease. This hand washing campaign is just an attempt to line their pockets.

  72. Jeffersonian

    I went through a period a few years back where I carried around the anti-bacterial. I was completely anal about it. 😉

  73. IVAN3MAN

    Michigan Gardener:

    Yeesh these people who don’t wash their hands are absolutely DISGUSTING! When you go to the bathroom you get fecal matter and/or urine on your hands, and you don’t think you need to WASH IT OFF?! What the hell is wrong with you people?

    The same thing that is wrong with those people who smoke cigarettes, despite the dangers of smoking.
    Phil Plait:

    Wash your hands. The life you save may be your own, but it may also be that of someone you love.

    If bloody smokers are unconcerned about contaminating their own lungs, they are unlikely to be concerned about their contaminated hands or the health of their loved ones.

    Yeah, I think that most people who don’t wash their hands after going to the lavatory are the same ones who indulge in the disgusting habit of smoking.

  74. Jeremy

    The fact that so many people don’t wash their hands is, of course, all the more reason to frequently wash my own. And carry around some antibacterial gel or hand wipes for situations where I can’t readily get to a sink.

    Basic sanitation is, in most respects, designed to protect you from exactly these idiots.

  75. Sean

    @IVAN3MAN

    The study on second hand smoke was pretty flimsy in all actuality, additionally myself and the people I know who smoke probably wash their hands more than those that do. Thanks for comparing us to Jenny McCarthy while we’re paying for the health insurance of children though.

    After every cig, before every meal, certainly every time you go to the bathroom,etc.

    Also: http://www.tothecenter.com/news.php?readmore=9615

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jun/01/military.firstworldwar

    “It is thought the only man in the world who is older is Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, who turns 113 in September. He says that abstaining from alcohol has kept him healthy. Allingham, with a twinkle in his eye, has always attributed his own longevity to ‘cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women’.”

    Grow Up.

  76. godless one

    Michigan Gardner wasn’t that a little harsh, geez. Next you’ll start harassing people for not washing their hands then beating the crap out of them for not complying with your demands. Why worry about what other people do just be concerned with yourself. You can wash your hands to your heart’s content that’s what matters most. I think Phil opened up a can of worms with this article. LOCK DOWN!!!!

  77. godless one

    I don’t take a shower (not in 5 years), wipe by butt, wash my hands especially before eating then I pick my nose and eat it (yummy). My hair is long and greasy and I smell with perspiration (is that what deodorant is for). I don’t brush my teeth and I like to fart and wallow in it for a few minutes. Are you sure you don’t want to shake my hand? Does anyone need a roommate? I can help you lose your fear of germs.

  78. Autumn

    Well, Michigan Gardener,
    At some point the feces would be diluted to homeopathic levels, and thus rendered harmless.
    That said, yes, hand washing is important. I wash my hands every time I use the bathroom (although not before, which is a good idea considering how filthy hands are). I wash my hands several times when I cook to scrupulously avoid cross-contamination, but then my wife cuts off a hunk of raw beef and eats it (she has the digestive tract of a hyena). We have three young kids, a dog, and a cat; we are exposed to more feces, vomit, urine, dander, snot, blood (kids’s noses), and assorted ick than is good for us.
    Seriously, wash your hands after eliminating, before eating, before cooking, etc., but don’t be phobic. If you are not immuno-suppressed, you are able to withstand a pretty heavy dose of pathogens every day. Michael L., I’m sorry that you have to go through what you do, but of all the pathogens out there, MRSA is the one least likely to have been stymied by hand-washing. It is endemic in most hospitals despite rigorous sanitation standards.
    Slightly OT, but who’s the agent and marketer for diseases? In the past decade we’ve had the avian flu (meh), SARS (terrible, should have been called the “Chicken Croup”, would have infected millions), now the Swine Flu (not too bad). But what happened to the comedy goldmine of horrific pandemics-to-be, the Monkey-Pox?!?!? I would have been happy to have been infected with a disease with such hilarious potential, hell, I would have died laughing!

  79. Hi Autumn:
    “Michael L., I’m sorry that you have to go through what you do, but of all the pathogens out there, MRSA is the one least likely to have been stymied by hand-washing. It is endemic in most hospitals despite rigorous sanitation standards.”

    That may be true, as far as it being the least stymied, BUT, if a person has it, that touched the doorhandle without washing, it can infect any unsuspecting person that may have a small cut.

  80. Godless One… no one is suggesting beating the crap out of anyone. However, sometimes people need to be publically humiliated to get a point across. Most public bathrooms have signs asking people to wash their hands. I don’t think there is anything wrong with going to a person and asking if they have a problem reading a sign. It’s their “freedom” not to wash, it’s my freedom to confront them.

    IVAN3MAN:
    I have confronted smokers and told them too butt out a number of times. They usually comply. If they don’t, a visit from the manager usually get’s their attention.

  81. Sean

    @ Micheal L

    What exactly do you mean by smokers? As in employees or what? If an employees smoking off of property and still follows all sanitary measures I see no reason a manager should be involved in the same way that someone who’s smoking in a hospital should be dealt with.

  82. Sean

    Also @godless one, you’re the bubonic plague waiting to happen.

    -SH.

  83. kingnor

    It’s gross not to wash your hands, but there are a few unpleasant things we HAVE to just deal with:

    Public bathroom toilet and stall handles. NO ONE who touches them has washed their hands, NO ONE. Every stall and toilet handle you touch has the full fury of germly grossness going on, and there’s not much you can do about it besides handle them with sheets of toilet paper.. yes that nice pourus toilet paper sitting just inches away from the toilet itself, absorbing every smell, fume and.. well lets not get too detailed. anyway…

    wash OFTEN you literally can’t wash fast enough.

  84. Autumn

    Michael L,
    You are correct, but most people won’t contract it with casual conduct. It is dangerous to those who are immuno-comprimised, and it is up to the rest of the population to take the minimum sanitation standards seriously in order to help out those less fortunate.
    I’m sorry if I seemed unfeeling, but MRSA is an opportunistic infection, and not likely to endanger the general public.

  85. @Sean,
    I should have made it clearewr, my apologies. I’m talking about those lighting up in public non smoking buildings and establishments. I have no problem with someone smoking outside, or in designated areas.

    @Autumn,
    No problem! I didn’t get that sense from your comment. It is because of a birth defect and subsequent work injury involving that defect that my immune system is weakened. I’m prone to kidney infections, so, the fact that I have had to use antibiotics fairly regularly has made many of the “first line of defense” antibiotics useless against this particular strain. In my case, very few options are left, and that is worrisome!

  86. Albert Bakker

    I wonder why there seems to be no awareness of the hazards of hand-dryers with all this germ-conciousness about. There were even a few casual suggestions of actually using them.

    Not only do hand dryers, which are often located at the most dangerous of places, namely public bathrooms, actually slightly increase the number of germs on your hands (study by Department of Food Service of Rutgers University) but they might ever so slightly increase the inhalation of pathogens in moist air surroundings by keeping infected droplets a little longer suspended in air. (I’m not aware of any research of that last conjecture, but I thought it sounds scary, so when talking about germs it must be true.)

    You can’t wash off germs with soap and water. Your skin is to bacteria and fungi what the Hindu Kush is to al Qaida. Most of the little fellers actually contribute to the health of your skin and nails. You can make your paws smell nice and look clean after filling up the bowl, but you can only properly disinfect them by scrubbing about an half an hour quite intensely with betadine soap and then rubbing them with alcoholic chlorhexidine. And even though it’s just anecdotal, I have never spotted the stuff lying around.

    But you’re not ready. After that you must immediately pack them in sterile gloves or you hands will be crawling with creepy crawlies once more in a real short interval. If you are in bad luck, the nasty mothers may take over the place and create havoc. This happens once in a while to OCD patients who have become succesful in whiping out the germs that normally would have lived their happy little lives on their hands.

    So the moral of the story is that since humans have evolved on a planet where microcellular life was is and will always be dominant (hell, human cells are even a comparatively small minority in humans) you would be very wise to keep being friendly to your easily overlooked allies and succumb to paranoia and overdo the hygiene thing, unless you are a surgeon and are about to slice somebody in half just after plugging up the crapper.

  87. Why is it that the only intelligent response here is that very last? Bakker is correct. You do not want to live in a sterile environment. There is much evidence that overly sterile environments are a cause for allergies.
    Having said that, the question isn’t “is washing your hands important”, but rather “when is washing your hands important”. In regular circumstances, it makes very little difference. Washing your hands when you exit the restroom will not reduce the number of coli germs on your hands, assuming that you didn’t actually pooped on them (yes, I’ve actually done the experiment with kids. We counted coli before and after washing hands and there was no difference). In regular circumstances it is meaningless.
    It is when you have a scratch, or when there is an epidemic going on, or when you’re about to work with food, or in a hospital (which is an epidemiological environment) – that sterilization matters. Washing your hands can be beneficial at times. Don’t make a religion out of it.

  88. Thanks for this post BA. After the last post so many dirty buggers popped up I felt like I was some sort of hand washing freak for washing my hands after going to the toilet. Basic hygiene never killed anybody but I’m sure not washing has. There’s any number of nasty bugs and as I mentioned before I’ve had personal experience with some (anecdotal yadah yadah) that can only come from eating food prepared with poopy hands.
    Washing hands does make a difference. And no you don’t have to make a religion out of it.

  89. Albert Bakker

    I don’t think anybody said preparing food with filthy hands is the right kind of thing to do.

    I am not sure whether an obsession with hygiene can actually kill you. It most definitely can make your life really unpleasant and it can weaken your health. On top of that like mr Moussaffi said too little (different) exposure can actually generate overactive immunological responses; autoimmune-diseases. (Which in turn creates pressure for a cleaner environment, or in other words a positive feedback loop, worsening the problem.)

    Therefore: hand-washing denialism = bad, hand-washing absolutism = bad, hand-washing realism = good. Prescription: use plenty o’ gray matter while washing.

  90. Michigan Gardener

    Autumn, I’m not phobic and I wasn’t talking about the disease-causing germs in feces. I’m talking about the DISGUST factor. A pile of feces could be tested for every disease-causing pathogen in existence, and be shown not to have any of those pathogens, and I STILL don’t want to rub those feces all over myself. The fact that I don’t want crap all over me, even if it won’t make me sick, makes me phobic? And yes I’m aware that we are pretty much constantly exposed to all sorts of nasty and even unhealthy things, but the fact that people purposely leave a bathroom after getting their wastes on their hands and not washing it off, knowlingly and carelessly spreading their waste around, is disgusting.

  91. Albert Bakker

    I meant grey of course. (That typo might lead to serious consequences among washing astronomers, knowing everything about radiation as they do and I don’t want to be responsible for hands falling off.)

  92. Nah, we’re not saying being obsessive or wash in bleach or even learn something from those with OCD. All we are saying is after pee pee or poo poo wash your hands. That’s it.

  93. I don’t really see how anybody can turn “please wash your hands after you pee” into “I want to live in an utterly sterile environment”. *shrugs*

  94. Naked Bunny, sure, I’ve got nothing against washing one’s hands when in the toilet. It’s a good and healthy tradition. And I agree that it is good manners. It’s just not as important as BA suggests – in NORMAL circumstances. When there’s an epidemic, or at a Hospital, etc. – then this tradition actually saves lives. The every-day hand wash, however, is a good courtesy, but not a life-saver.

  95. My friend says that in Sweden guys think it’s girly to wash ones hands after peeing. If the Swedes approve, then it must be fine.

    He apparently doesn’t get that people who describe sanitation as ‘girly’ are not health professionals, nor that Sweden is a less than optimal climate for many diseases.

  96. Ausmith1

    Here’s a great picture that demonstrates the ability of alcohol gel to kill MRSA.
    Graphic Encouragement to Wash Your Hands
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/01/handwashing/

    I recall reading an article a year or two ago (I can’t find it now however) about a hospital administrator that wanted to eliminate hospital acquired infections in their facility and had observers note who did and didn’t wash their hands or use alcohol gel/foam before patient interactions. Oddly enough the lowest compliance rates were amongst the doctors and there were particular problems amongst providers from cultural groups with prohibitions against the use of alcohol. As I recall he instituted a zero tolerance policy on hand hygiene and threatened to immediately fire anyone who didn’t comply. Seemingly it took a few firings for the message to get through to everyone.
    This level of stupidity is absolutely amazing to me, particularly coming from someone smart enough to go through medical school. I’m not a proponent of zero tolerance policies but in this case it does seem to have a legitimate use. As the article excerpt below shows using alcohol gel for hand hygiene is not a problem in Saudi Arabia!

    Muslim Healthcare worker and Alcohol-Based Hand Rub
    http://www.asm.org/Media/index.asp?bid=39244
    “Cleanliness and hand hygiene in particular are well described within Islamic teachings, independent of patient-care responsibilities, and are an essential, integral part of being a Muslim. Every observant Muslim is required to maintain scrupulous personal hygiene at five intervals throughout the day at designated times of prayer. Hence, this reluctance to comply with hand hygiene protocols is surprising.

    The authors note with curiosity that much of this reluctance is emerging from Western Europe and not from Islamic countries. As an example, at the King Abdul Aziz Medical Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where most of the healthcare workers and almost all patients are Muslim, alcohol-containing hand hygiene cleansers have been the standard of care for a number of years without encountering any resistance to their introduction.”

  97. The every-day hand wash, however, is a good courtesy, but not a life-saver.

    You think?
    A couple of things that can go the fecal-oral route:
    Hep-A
    Shigella
    Campylobacter

  98. I mean how hard is it to wash your hands, good grief. My work takes me to the third world quite often. I would love to see these, don’t wash their hands people in action in those places.

  99. DrFlimmer

    I was washing my hands, but mostly without soup. Thanks for opening my eyes, Phil.

  100. Um… DrFlimmer… you probably shouldn’t wash your hands in soup anyway.

  101. IVAN3MAN

    DrFlimmer:

    I was washing my hands, but mostly without soup.

    Would that be chicken, tomato, or mushroom, DrFlimmer? 😉

  102. IVAN3MAN

    Hey, Shane!

    Q: What’s the difference between buffalo and a bison?

    A: You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo!

    :-)

  103. John

    Washing your hands is ineffective, if you really want to kill all of the flora and fauna that naturally or unnaturally live on your hands, you really should consider using an autoclave.

    Thats 121 degrees C for 15 minutes at high pressure.

    Care to give that a go Phil? or would you rather carry on spreading germs?

  104. @Albert and Omer:
    Wow! Your ignorance is astounding! Your opinion, since it is just an opinion, without any factual research (except for Omers’ little “experiment”), flies in the face of the research done by those with years of research to back up the fact that hand-washing makes a difference!

    I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that we all live in a sterile environment. We realize that is an impossibility! Yes, bacteria does live on our skin, and inside of our bodies, most notably in the gut and intestines. Yes, most of you have staph bacteria on your skin. The problem is, that some strains of staph have evolved to the point of developing the ability to resist many of our weapons used against them. At one time, the main risk of acquiring MRSA was in a hospital environment. (That is still the primary way). However, now, there is a rise in so-called “community strain” MRSA, that is MRSA that has developed the ability to thrive outside of a hospital environment. The risk of coming into contact with those strains is on the rise. The chances are increasing that someone who touched the bathroom door handle without washing is now greater than in the past. Even if only 1 in 10 has MRSA on their skin, it would make a hell of a difference to some of us if we could get that 1 person to wash their hands! (BTW, what happens when these bacteria continue to evolve, and develop resistance to front line antibiotics we use today? It is only a matter of time! Bacteria have been on this planet a hell of a lot longer than any other life forms. All they have is time!)

  105. rhea

    Seriously, ew. Wash your hands people! How simple is that in North America anyways? We’re lucky.

  106. Bicky

    Once I spent two days sicker than sick just because of a tiny small bit of not well cooked chicken that I ate at a gourmet diner. Boy I was sick. Do not underestimate the power of germs.

  107. Bob

    Guys. I wash my hands BEFORE I use the bathroom. My genitals are the cleanest on the planet.

  108. Why do handwash denialists sound much like anti-vaxxers?
    I think we are looking at an allergy to logic, fundamental research, rational thinking and common sense. And until there is a homeopathic cure against it, that’s what we deal with.

  109. John

    Seriously, there is a middle way between not washing your hands and chopping them off. Kill off or do away with a reasonable amount, and you and humanity will be fine as far as pertains to hand-spread diseases.

  110. Bob

    You need to show proof….. eh, no let’s don’t, I’ll take your word as a fine and, uh, upstanding human being.

  111. @Omar,

    This is a possible epidemic, hence the importance of hand washing isn’t exaggerated. I don’t think we should wait for clear confirmation that it’s an epidemic before we start to do so- especially since the costs of non-OCD regular hand washing are so low.

  112. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I carried around the anti-bacterial. I was completely anal about it.

    It’s like eating well. If you obsess over it you will get sick from it too.

    The middle ground is to recognize that it is an observably efficient method to improve the populations (and so likely your) health. But by the same observations occasional lapses aren’t much to obsess over.

    I was washing my hands, but mostly without soup. Thanks for opening my eyes, Phil.

    Well, according to those references hand washing (and drying) in tap water is nearly as efficient as with soap. I wouldn’t bother too much over the soap/no soap difference.

    What could be more bothersome is overuse of strong antibacterials as commenters discuss. We should probably keep those strictly for hospitals and especially surgeon use.

    Or in other words, I wash my hands of those soups. :-)

  113. Bob,
    Unless you open door knob with your… your, ummm… well, knobby, you’re good to go! :)

  114. Rift

    I’ve been on vacation so haven’t been following the blog or the comments (and haven’t had time to sort through all these comment so sorry if i restate something) but i remember reading (and agreeing once I thought about it) that simple hand washing has saved more lives then all other medical advances put together.

    I can’t imagine handwashing denialists even existing…

    I spent a very hectic early morning yesterday when my companion got too sick to fly. She is british and in a foreign country (here, the usa where I live) She was panicky, i was nearly so, not because she had the swine flu (she didn’t, tomorrow she will be back home in the uk) but because we called the airline and they said they’d just stick a mask on her.

    (Imagine flying with a bad 24 hour cold, which is all she had, and having a whole plane load of people looking at you every time you coughed because you were wearing a mask)

    If it wasn’t for media hysteria, we would have just cancel her flight and spent a day in bed. instead we spent 3 hours on the phone trying to get advice about what the hell to do. We even ended up calling the British Embassy here about 5 am. I’m all for caution but this is insane.

    And there are idiots (sorry but I don’t consider that an ad homen in this case) that don’t wash their hands????

    My sister works in food service and they aren’t allowed to use anti-bacterial soap. It breaks down the skin and dries it out and allows crevasses where bacteria swarm like locusts. And I always use paper towels instead of dryng my hands on those hot air thingies just blowing germs on your hands. geez, wiping your hands dry on your jeans or shirt is more sanitary.

  115. MadScientist

    I always laugh when I see “anti-bacterial soap” and “andti-bacterial handwash”. Actually I fume when I see places that encourage using a “handwash” rather than actually washing hands. As for anything ‘anti-bacterial’ in soap, that’s nothing but a scam. Washing with soap washes away most bacteria and that’s good enough – even in surgery. Claiming to kill 20% of the remaining bugs is just lame because it makes no difference whatsoever to how fast the bacteria breed again. Aside from all that, you can use all the bacteria-killing chemicals you want – then touch the door that Dirty Larry just went through. Duh.

  116. The best denialist reasonsing is that we already wash our private areas thorougly each morning and then put on clean underwear. There should be no chance of contamination of the hands from the visit to an auto-flushing urinal. :)

  117. TheThomas

    Michigan Gardener Says:
    May 1st, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    “Yeesh these people who don’t wash their hands are absolutely DISGUSTING! When you go to the bathroom you get fecal matter and/or urine on your hands, and you don’t think you need to WASH IT OFF?! What the hell is wrong with you people? …”

    Since Michigan is apparently a germophobe, I figured someone ought to mention that most toothbrushes have some bacterial growth from contamination by fecal matter…enjoy. The mythbusters did an episode on it a few years back. It is apparently due to staying wet in an open environment (usually bathroom, next to toilet) for hours every day.

    The first line of the study: “Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine…”
    Can you extrapolate to a population that these studies weren’t designed for?

  118. Flying sardines

    @ kuhnigget : (May 1st, 2009 at 2:05 pm)

    ccpetersen asked: “What’s next? defense of poo-flinging?”

    I believe “Moderate” has already broached this state of affairs in the Why Evolution is True thread. Monkeys flinging poo, to be precise.

    Well we’re all monkeys too! 😉

    Apes to be technically correct but, hey, apes are varieties of monkeys are varieties of mammals (spelling right this time – ‘a’ or ‘e’ before ‘l’?) are varieties of animals which are varieties of multi-cellular living organisms. (eukaryotes / prokaryotes I forget which now.)

    Which is the point that the particular creationist troll mis-named “moderate” seemed to take issue with. Somehow evolution always seems to come down to monkeys or man and then the {can’t say it} fight starts! 😉

    And don’t ask about the lumps-of-coal-in-the-rectum threat. Seriously. Don’t ask.

    No indeed, its a long and boring (& off-topic here) story. But the thread’s there if folks really can’t resist; although a very lo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ng read.
    Just don’t say we didn’t warn you! 😉

  119. Flying sardines

    Italics. *sigh*
    Lack of editing ability. *sigh*
    I never catch these things before I click submit *Sigh* :-(

    Let’s see now :

    ****

    Apes to be technically correct but, hey, apes are varieties of monkeys are varieties of mammals (spelling right this time – ‘a’ or ‘e’ before ‘l’?) are varieties of animals which are varieties of multi-cellular living organisms. (Eukaryotes / prokaryotes {sp?} I forget which now.)

    Which is the point that the particular creationist troll mis-named “moderate” seemed to take issue with. Somehow evolution always seems to come down to monkeys & man and then the {can’t say it}****-fight starts!

    “And don’t ask about the lumps-of-coal-in-the-rectum threat. Seriously. Don’t ask.”

    No indeed, its a long and boring (& off-topic here) story. Warned ya. :-(
    ***

    Is how its meant to look.

    PS. Phil Plait, you have no idea how much I wish you’d add an edit button to these comments. :-(

  120. The most disturbing and sickening is seeing guys in the locker room go into the crapper and come out and just walk out onto the gym floor. Imagine? and they are all ages, young and old. I tell everyone on the floor I know who they are. The women are the most greatful. I’m thinking of going to a full length glove instead of the fingerless.

  121. @ The Chemist : (May 1st, 2009 at 3:02 pm)

    Hand washing denialists… *Sigh*

    Can we just blow up the world and start over?

    Please?

    Well there are certainly some possibilities for us doing that!

    Didn’t you see the BA’s thread on that very topic! 😉

    Or click my name above for a link to a site that goes into the many potential mechanisms for ‘geocide’ or Earth-destroying.

  122. Astroquoter

    @ Chris C. : (May 1st, 2009 at 3:14 pm)

    I wonder what kind of soap gets the blood of a million people off your hands.

    Huh? Say wha …? I don’t get it.

    You think people posting here can answer that one from experience or need to know or something? (Puzzled.)

    “Will all great Neptune’s oceans wash this blood clean from my hand? No, rather this will the multitudinous seas incarnadine; making the green one -red!”

    – MacBeth, (the eponymous character speaking after murdering Duncan), by William Shakespeare, Elizabethan era.

    “Out! Out damn spot!”
    – Lady Macbeth,same play, same source, repetitively washing her hands over & over again in her guilt haunted sleep / trance.

    [No connection to telling the dog to get outside whatsoever!] 😉

    “Out vile Jelly!”
    – King Lear , Goneril /Edmund ( I think?) during the process of gouging out another major characters eye!

    [Wonder if they washed their hand afterward?!] 😉

    Ah Shakespeare, more gory, more violent and far more downright entertaining than I think most people now give Bard credit for. :-)

  123. T_U_T

    To those disgusting people, I say: blecccchhhh and ewwwww.

    playing devil’s advocate : go on guys, deprive your immune system of its daily dose of intruders, and happily watch it as it turns paranoid and attacks random benign substances like plant pollen, or even your own body.

  124. Bein'Silly

    @ Omer Moussaffi : (May 2nd, 2009 at 3:09 am)

    …. Washing your hands when you exit the restroom will not reduce the number of coli germs on your hands, assuming that you didn’t actually pooped on them (yes, I’ve actually done the experiment with kids.) ..

    What experiment? You made them *poop* on their hands!?! 😉

    YECK! Yeck! Yeck!

    BBBBbbbleeeerggh!

  125. Bein'Silly

    BTW. “Poop?” “pee-pee, poo-poo” Why can’t Americans of all people get more sane and less childish about swearing? Sheesh. :roll:

    What is it with Amercian culture? You folks either seem to overdo it in normal life where every second word is ‘f’ or ‘s’ or end up talking some babyish uber-prude wowserist gooble-de-gook like Ned Flanders. Enough!

    Come on. We all know & say the “rude” words in question. Nobody over the age of two doesn’t, (many at age two or belwo already do too) so lets just get over it.

    Really, the odd swear word where appropriate should be fine & allowable.

    Of course, over use of “swear words” is self-evidently as childish as over-avoiding, not to mention just monotonous & boring.

    But lets have sanity prevail please?

    *$#@@#@!!!*^%$#@ US-style net-nanny-ism! It merely makes things just sound silly & directed at three year olds. :-(

  126. The Mutt

    “Out, vile jelly!”

    The line is said by the Duke of Cornwall as he gouges out Gloucester’s eyes. But is was Goneril’s idea.

  127. IVAN3MAN

    TheThomas:

    Since Michigan is apparently a germophobe, I figured someone ought to mention that most toothbrushes have some bacterial growth from contamination by fecal matter…enjoy.

    That is most likely due to the man’s wife using the his toothbrush to clean the toilet because he has forgotten her birthday or their wedding anniversary.

  128. That is most likely due to the man’s wife using the his toothbrush to clean the toilet because he has forgotten her birthday or their wedding anniversary.

    Or they had burglars… they just haven’t received the photo yet. :-)

  129. Michigan Gardener

    To TheThomas:

    No, I’m not germophobic, as I’ve already stated above. There is a middle ground between germophobic and disgusting slob. Apparently this a concept some people don’t understand. I certainly can’t make you understand that.

    So, when are you going to lick a public toilet? Or are you too germophobic to do such a thing?

  130. Flying Sardines said:

    “PS. Phil Plait, you have no idea how much I wish you’d add an edit button to these comments. :-(”

    StevoR: Tell me ain’t you!?! LOL 😉

  131. Ricky

    I really don’t understand those hand-washing denialists. I’m a high school teacher and there are two male teachers that I know of don’t wash their hands after using the washroom. I hate them!

  132. Flying sardines

    Okay, got me. I’ll fess up to that. 😉

  133. Flying sardines

    @ Ricky :

    Perhaps you could secretly rig up a big flashing “Didn’t wash hands” sign & accompanying siren and next time they come out trigger it to ring .. at the most crowded and public time possible natch! 😉

  134. Nigel Depledge

    Davidlpf said:

    Actually homeopathic doctors make a soap by diluting a tiny bit of dirt (like cures like) with swimming pool of water.

    Or, to make more “powerful” soap, they take a teeny drop from that swimming pool, react all of Jupiter’s hydrogen with oxygen to make more water, and dilute it in that!

    A “30C” dilution is 1 in 1060, and that’s one of the “weaker” concoctions!!!

  135. Nigel Depledge

    Argo said:

    Let me explain the denialist rationale – which, BTW, does have some experimental support. The skin has a layer of beneficial natural bacteria.

    Nope.

    Beneficial is not the same as harmless. We have probably several dozen to several hundred species of bacteria on our skin. Most of the time, these cause no harm. Mainly, this is because our skin is an effective barrier to bacterial ingress.

    However, if we become wounded and the wound is not cleaned (e.g. by the flow of blood exiting the body, but grazes that merely ooze a little bit of blood would not clean the wound adequately), these bacteria that you describe as beneficial will infect the wound.

    Ever heard of MRSA? The SA stands for Staphylococcus aureus, which is a common skin-dwelling bacterium. If given the opportunity, it can cause potentially fatal infections.

    Potential pathogens typically fail to produce infections because they cannot generate a large enough population to out-compete the natural bacteria.

    This is often the case in the gut, but not on the skin. Bacteria on the skin fail to produce infections because they cannot enter the body.

    The use of anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers indiscriminately kill much of the natural bacterial population.

    This may be true, but ordinary soap is not anti-bacterial. It does not kill bacteria, it loosens their “grip” on your skin so that you can remove most of them. I.e., washing your hands with ordinary soap decreases the population of these “beneficial” bacteria.

    The danger of antibacterial handwash is that many of these handwashes contain antibiotics, and you thus create a selection pressure for the evolution of antibiotic resistance in your skin flora. Use either soap or alcohol jelly.

    This greatly reduces the natural defenses of the skin if there is exposure to a pathogen.

    Except that it does not.

    The conclusion is that it’s only best to wash if the expected level of recent contamination is significantly higher than what will be experienced after washing (when the skin will be more vulnerable).

    This is a purely selfish perspective. When you wipe after defaecating, you will probably get some of your gut flora on your hand(s). This is, of course, harmless to you, but may be quite hazardous to other people.

    Despite what is commonly believed, restrooms are relatively low-risk environments compared to doorknobs and computer keyboards.

    Only because toilets are cleaned so frequently, and because they are made with smooth, hard surfaces where dirt cannot lodge and thus harbour colonies of bacteria. However, the interior door handle of the toilet probably has a great many different species of bacteria on it, albeit at small populations due to the nature of the material (i.e. if it is a smooth metal handle, it will generally not allow the bacteria to multiply).

    Like so many things, dose is all-important. Most people’s immune systems can quite easily handle a few hundred thousand foreign bacterial cells suddenly being in their food (e.g. if that person shook hands with you and then ate a sandwich), but a few tens of millions not so much (e.g. if you did not wash your hands after defaecating before that person shook your hand).

  136. Nigel Depledge

    Godless one said:

    Does everybody on here have the fear of germs or something? People have freedom in this country. If they don’t want to wash their hands that’s their business I’m not going to cry over it.

    You may be right, technically, but how difficult is it to wash your hands after defaecating?

    It’s not against the law for the general public to not wash their hands.

    True. But are you saying that common sense needs to be legislated before it applies to you?

    This swine flu is blown way out of proportion and even this rant of an article on hand washing. I’m not going to worry about every single microbe that I’m in contact with because I’m sure that would number in the millions. I don’t live in fear.

    Actually, right now you are in contact with tens of trillions of bacteria.

    They outnumber the cells in your body by approximately ten to one.

    However, the latest flu variety is actually a virus. Washing your hands after defaecating is good advice in a fairly general sense. If you have flu, washing your hands after sneezing (assuming you used a handkerchief or tissue) is a good way to reduce the likelihood of spreading it.

    Either way, it is simple civility to minimise the risk of you passing an infection of any kind on to other people. If that infection is potentially fatal (as is influenza), is it not reasonable that you should minimse the risk of passing it on?

  137. Nigel Depledge

    HP said:

    I think one source of miscommunication is that many people think washing hands after using the bathroom has something to do with poop and pee. The truth is, your own poop and pee is no threat to you, and not really a threat to others unless you have some kind of active infection. It may be gross and smelly, but it’s not generally dangerous.

    This would have been correct once, but is not really any more.

    Your gut flora are not hazardous to others if those other people have the same strains of gut flora. However, because we now live in such large and mobile communities, this is the exception not the rule. Your gut flora can probably cause some kind of illness to most of the people you will encounter during the course of a typical day.

  138. Nigel Depledge

    Evolving Squid said:

    I tend to wash before and after.

    When you’ve just used the bathroom, you’re pretty sure where your hands have been, what they’ve been touching etc.

    But when you walk in, before you touch anything of your own, what were your hands touching? Shake hands with the client? Nab somethign at the vending machine?

    Who knows what you’re about to smear on your most intimate bits.

    Heh.

    I used to work in a university virology department. I always washed before and after!

  139. Nigel Depledge

    Damon said:

    First of all: What is wrong with anecdotal evidence? Since it happened to someone in real life doesn’t it count as data?

    This is a good question, and the answer is rather involved.

    First, consider what evidence actually is in a scientific context. Evidence is not a single data point, it is a set of observations that confirms or refutes an hypothesis. Context is very important.

    Second, scientific data is always about measuring the right things in the right ways. So many aspects of human experience are influenced by our own subjectivity that scientists forever strive to acquire data objectively. There are many unconcious ways in which we may bias our own reporting of experiences.

    An anecdotal account of something may trigger an investigation, but the anecdote cannot be part of the data obtained through that investigation. The acquisition of scientific data must, wherever possible, be controlled to limit or exclude the influence of external factors.

    Yes, it does, and if enough people chime in (as in your comments sections) then it certainly becomes more than just data.

    No. Because people do many things without realising it to bias the data:

    People notice the unusual but not the usual;
    People assume causal correlations where there are none;
    Coincidences often look like relationships;
    People remember details very poorly (and in so many things, the devil is in the detail);
    People do not grasp statistics very well.

    I agree with the commenter who stated that anecdotal accounts should not be used to support handwashing, any more than they should be used to support not washing the hands. There are too many possible other influences at work that could account for the outcome, while being far less obvious than a handwashing regime.

  140. whb03

    Congrats, boys and girls. This has got to officially be the most DISGUSTING BA post to date.

    To those who blatantly refuse to wash their extremities during post-deprecation activities: Wash your hands for the love of [insert whatever the hell you like here]. Who cares if it doesn’t gross you out? Just wash them, is that so freaking much to ask? Think of others around you for a change. Or is that the whole point, you simply don’t give a damned and have no interest in serving anyone other than yerself?

    GROW THE F UP.

  141. Spider

    So, I never get urine and feces on my hands, ever, after using the toilet. I mean, how would that even OCCUR? So everyone freaking out about that — what in the hell are you doing in the bathroom?

    That being said, I wash my hands anyway. Why not? I need to wash everything off that I’ve gotten from doorknobs, money, etc. Seems like a good time to do it, and a way to do it regularly.

    As for those of you who think your alcohol gel is keeping you from getting colds and flus — that would be magical. Alcohol doesn’t kill viruses. Soap doesn’t kill viruses as much as it simply ensures you rinse pathogens *off* of your skin. Rubbing them in with alcohol gel just seems like a bad idea. But it’ll certainly keep bacteria off your hands.

  142. Spider

    mapnut: Jesus was talking about kosher laws, not about washing your hands! He said it was more important to live a clean life than to eat “clean food” (ie, kosher-only food).

    The Christians believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness so to blame them for not washing up is a pretty big stretch.

    As for the machismo comment…way to be racist. And misinformed. Metrosexuals borrow quite a lot from the machismo style and grooming.

  143. Love the ‘Hand washing denialists’ blog. Thanks for the statistics. It is beyond my comprehension how folks can think that it’s ok to NOT wash after using the restroom. And before eating, and before cooking, and – well, I could go on and on, but I won’t…

    healthysigns4u.com

  144. Mango

    I was recently treated for an infection of Helicobacter Pylori in my stomach (fascinating germ, actually — the only one known that can survive the hydrochloric acid in there). 50% of the people in the world are infected, and it is responsible for most ulcers and almost all stomach cancer.

    Guess how it spreads?

  145. bob

    I read and contributed to the earlier thread. I don’t think many people were talking about crapping and then not washing their hands. That obviously involves touching a large amount of unhygienic surface area. However, I maintain that washing your hands in a public loo after taking a piss is less hygienic than not touching anything. The hand washing studies don’t actually seem to be very specific about what action was performed in the loo.

  146. Ed

    I can’t stand being near or seeing someone who doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. I could kill those people!

  147. p

    I use my right hand to wipe up, then I prepare sack lunches for senior citizens without washing it or wearing gloves. Occasionally I’ll run some water over it and wipe it on the door handle when I leave the bathroom.

  148. p

    I know people who prepare raw meat IN THE SINK. They’ll soak it in tepid stagnant water, not knowing that standing water is almost as good as a petri dish. I’ve said before, there are too many people, and WWaaAAAYYYYY too many imbeciles.

  149. ZERO

    To those disgusting people, I say: blecccchhhh and ewwwww.

    LOL

  150. Robert

    The problem with common sense is that is often wrong. There are plenty of studies that suggest overwashing is counterproductive and, yes, can even lead to an increase in infection rates. The article below from the CDC provides complete and well documented evidence. For those who do not wish to read it in its entirety, I offer the bottom line: frequent washing of hands can alter natural conditions and leave hands more susceptible to holding and passing of infectious cells. Frequent bathing provides aesthetic and relaxing benefits but does little to alter the microbial content of the skin.

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no2/larson.htm

    I have not pulled up any links for it to paste here but I also recall studies that indicate overly sterile environments appear to have a role in causing appendicitis – this is a condition largely non-existent in third-world countries.

  151. Actually homeopathic doctors make a soap by diluting a tiny bit of dirt (like cures like) with swimming pool of water.

  152. Anita

    I’m just dismayed by those who jump to conclusions about people who say, ‘Wash your hands.’ They love pointing out studies about the dangers of sterile environments and over washing, when the sentiment is simply…..
    Wash your hands using the basic guidelines: After using the rest room, before eating, etc. No where did I read someone say that we needed to boil our hands or wash them 100 times per day.

    Some may describe me as a germaphobe because I wash my hands more now more than I did 10-12 years ago. Back then I thought more or less everyone, who was not a bum or with “challenged faculties”, washed their hands. But then I married into a family where I’ve seen things that I would not believe myself, had I not seen them first hand. As a result, I now wash my hands more when visiting in-laws because I know they don’t after using the restroom, after cleaning up pet feces/bird feces, etc. Knowing that everything they touch (door knobs, remote controls, furniture, etc.) has a higher than normal amount of feces particles on them, makes me bone up on handwashing because I have to touch the same things they touch.

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