October 15, 2008 / 8:27 AM / in 9 years

Britain's north/south divide: Hand washing?

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - People in the north of Britain are three times as likely to have hands contaminated with fecal bacteria than their compatriots in the south, scientists studying toilet hygiene said on Wednesday.

Researchers swabbed the hands of 409 commuters waiting at bus stops outside railway stations in five cities in Britain and found traces of fecal bugs on more than a quarter of them (28 percent).

Just 13 percent of commuters at London's Euston Station had contaminated hands, compared to 44 percent of those surveyed at Newcastle Central Station, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine study found.

Val Curtis, director of the school's Hygiene Center, said she was surprised by the findings.

"The figures were far higher than we had anticipated, and suggest that there is a real problem with people washing their hands in the UK.

"If any of these people had been suffering from a diarrhea disease, the potential for it to be passed around would be greatly increased by their failure to wash their hands after going to the toilet."

Infectious intestinal diseases are among the biggest killers of children worldwide, while lack of adequate handwashing may be partly responsible for current high levels of hospital-acquired infections, the researchers said.

The study found little geographic variation in the cleanliness of women's hands, with 27 percent overall found dirty.

But among the men surveyed there was a clear rise in hand contamination from the south to the north.

Just 6 percent of the men swabbed at Euston were found with fecal bacteria on their hands compared to 53 percent of those at Newcastle Central Station, a nine-fold difference.

In Cardiff the figure was 15 percent, in Birmingham 21 percent and in Liverpool 36 percent.

The researchers said they could see no obvious reason for the regional trend and said further study was needed.

"We therefore propose further investigation of the hypothesis that hands are washed more often or more thoroughly in the south of the UK relative to the north, and that male and female handwashing rates differ geographically."

Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato

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