Is the person next to you washing with soap?

Thu Oct 15, 2009 10:00am EDT
 
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - People are more likely to wash their hands properly after using the toilet if they are shamed into it or think they are being watched, scientists said on Thursday.

Handwashing is the cheapest way of controlling disease but less than one third of men and two thirds of women wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet, a British study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed.

But when prompted by an electronic message flashing up on a board asking: "Is the person next to you washing with soap?," around 12 percent more men and 11 percent more women used soap.

Health authorities around the world are stepping up efforts to persuade people to be more hygienic and wash their hands properly to help slow the spread of H1N1 swine flu, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in June.

"Handwashing with soap has been ranked the most cost-effective intervention for the worldwide control of disease," the study's authors wrote.

"It could save more than a million lives a year from diarrhoeal diseases, and prevent respiratory infections -- the biggest causes of child mortality in developing countries."

In developed nations, handwashing can help prevent the spread of viral infections like flu and sickness and diarrhea bugs like norovirus and rotavirus, as well as hospital-acquired infections like MRSA and C-difficile, the authors said.

The researchers studied the behavior of a quarter of a million people using toilets at motorway service stations in Britain over 32 days. Use of soap was monitored by sensors.   Continued...

 
<p>Schoolchildren wash their hands during an activity for the upcoming Global Handwashing Day in Lima October 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo</p>