- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The war between the sexes just got a little dirtier.

Women have cleaner hands than men. So says the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), which released a study of the nation’s hygiene habits yesterday, after spying on several thousand folks in public lavatories.

The ladies were more “conscientious,” according to the District-based group, washing their hands 90 percent of the time after using public facilities. Men — well, their mothers would be ashamed. Only 75 percent washed their hands.

Still, there are differences across the nation.

Fans at Atlanta’s Turner Field, for example, had the worst hygiene: 84 percent of the women washed their hands, compared with 63 percent of the men. The greatest “gender disparity” was found in New York’s Penn Station, where 92 percent of the women washed their hands, compared with only 64 percent of the men.

Trained observers actually watched 6,336 persons wash their hands — or not wash their hands — at six public attractions during the month of August. Observers “were instructed to groom themselves while observing and to rotate bathrooms every hour,” the ASM noted, adding that test subjects were equally divided between men and women.

The wash watchers were also on duty at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd Aquarium, Grand Central Station in New York and San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal Farmers Market. The ferry visitors, in fact, were the cleanest — overall, 88 percent washed.

With the help of Harris Polls and the Soap and Detergent Association — a trade group — the ASM also interviewed 1,013 adults by telephone about their washing ways.

Comparative statistics revealed that Americans fib: The phone survey found that overall, 90 percent claimed they always washed after using a public restroom. In reality, observers found that only 83 percent actually did.

That old gender disparity was at work, too. By phone, 97 percent of the women said they washed; the observed percentage was 90 percent. Among men, however, 96 percent claimed they washed; the observed percentage was 21 points lower.

The telephone findings also alarmed the researchers. Yes, 83 percent of us say we wash after using the bathroom at home and 77 percent wash before handling food. But only 42 percent wash after petting a dog or cat, 32 percent after coughing or sneezing and 21 percent after handling money.

Money? Indeed. Several studies in recent years revealed that 75 percent to 95 percent of bills and coins are contaminated with illness-causing bacteria.

Contrary to what many people think, illness spreads more often by hands than through sneezing, according to Dr. Judy Daly, ASM spokeswoman and a pathologist with the University of Utah Medical Center.

“Although many Americans are beginning to recognize the importance of washing their hands, we still need to reach many others,” Dr. Daly says. “Our message is clear. One of the most effective tools in preventing the spread of infection is literally at our fingertips.”

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