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CNN Today

Report Criticizes Americans' Hand-Washing Practices

Aired September 18, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Your mother told you to do it, your father told you to do it. Why aren't you doing it? That's the question some scientists are asking today. The American Society of Microbiology says that despite an increasing health threat, a third of us fail to take the simple precaution of washing our hands after using the bathroom.

CNN medical correspondent Holly Firfer reports on Operation Clean Hands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How many times a day do you wash your hands?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four or five times a day, I would guess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe 10 times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least 20, 25 times a day.

FIRFER: The American Society for Microbiology wanted to know how many people told the truth when it came to hand-washing. So they called more than 1,000 people across the U.S. and asked how many washed their hands after using a public restroom: 95 percent of those surveyed said they did.

But then, observers were sent to five cities around the country to record whether or not people actually washed. They found 75 percent of the women washed their hands compared to only 58 percent of the men.

DR. JULIE GERBERDING, CDC: You know, your hands are the most important means by which germs travel from one person to another. So it makes sense that washing your hands would be an effective strategy for protecting yourself.

FIRFER: The researchers asked other questions as well and were less than impressed with the answers: Only 86 percent of those surveyed said they washed their hands after using the bathroom at home. After changing a diaper, 78 percent said they washed, 77 percent before handling or eating foods, 45 percent washed after petting a dog or a cat, 31 percent after coughing or sneezing, and only 20 percent said they washed after handling money. GERBERDING: There are many diseases that are transmitted person- to-person through the hands. Probably the most important one is the common cold virus. We know that it's touch that spreads that germ from one person to another.

FIRFER: As well as more serious bacterial infections such as E. coli, salmonella and shigella.

Health experts say the best way to wash your hands is to use soap and water, and scrub for 10 to 15 seconds. Then rinse them well in running water. Use a paper towel to dry and then throw it away.

There are a few places, like restaurants and hospitals, with hand-washing regulations, but it is difficult to enforce those laws. So the CDC says the best defense against spreading infectious diseases is to educate people on how important it is to wash those hands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FIRFER: And if you were wondering about how those cities ranked in hand-washing after using a public restroom, Chicago had the most hand-washers, 78 percent, followed by San Francisco. Little more than half of those observed in New Orleans washed their hands after the bathroom. In New York City, less than half washed, only 43 percent. And Lou, here's not-so-good news for those of us here in Atlanta: Only 36 percent washed out hands.

WATERS: Uh-oh. And they even broke it down more than that, on the socioeconomic scale, we know who's washing and who isn't.

FIRFER: They did. Absolutely. What they found was that those who had a higher education -- a high-school diploma or higher, college educated, masters degree -- washed their hands less than those who had a high-school diploma or less. Those who made $35,000 a year or more washed their hands left often than those who made less than $35,000 a year.

Go figure.

WATERS: And we don't know how they know this. Are there people following us around, making notes?

FIRFER: Apparently. Make sure you wash your hands.

WATERS: And we must point out that Holly in her dedication has...

FIRFER: Washed my hands.

WATERS: ... rough and scratchy hands now that she's done this report.

FIRFER: I've washed so much that they actually need moisturizer.

WATERS: Well, we appreciate it very much.

FIRFER: No problem.

WATERS: Thanks.

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