New results indicate that 69 percent of Americans fail to wash their hands properly even though 68 percent of them say they believe that routine hand washing is the optimal method for thwarting disease transmission.

The findings are from a survey recently completed by the newly formed Lysol Hygiene Council, which has mounted an initiative to increase awareness about the paramount role of good hygiene for preventing the spread of infections including colds, influenza, and other illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Council members include experts in virology, microbiology, and infectious disease.

For the survey, more than 8.000 people from eight countries (the U.S., U.K., Italy, Germany, United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia, and South Africa) were queried about their understanding of how infectious diseases are transmitted. Participants were also asked questions about their daily hygiene practices.

Only Germans had worse hand washing habits than Americans. Overall, 75 percent acknowledged that they do not wash their hands properly.

?Inattention to hygiene is a problem irrespective of socioeconomic class and education,? Dr. Philip M. Tierno, Jr., Director of Clinical Microbiology and Diagnostic Immunology at New York University Medical Center in New York City, said in an interview.

?Even doctors don’t have exemplary hygiene practices,? he added. ?Consider the rate of nosocomial infections in this country alone. There are 2.5 million nosocomial infections with 100,000 people dying at a cost of five billion dollars.?

The survey also found that most people were aware of the need for good hygiene but did not know that they could encounter more bacteria at home than in public places.

Hygiene Council Chairman Professor John Oxford, Professor of Virology at St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital in London, U.K., said that the implementation of good hygiene practices has been on the wane since the introduction of antibiotics. He called on doctors to ?set the example? and routinely emphasize to their patients the importance of good hygiene just as they would stress the importance of a healthy diet.

Professor Oxford and Dr. Tierno concurred that clean hands can be ?the most powerful weapon on earth for defeating infection.? They recommended the use of alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or hand gels in the event that water is unavailable.

My Family and Germs

By Jill Stein
Jill Stein is a Paris-based freelance medical writer.