Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting Guys to Wash Their Hands

We all know that one of the simplest, best ways to stay healthy is to wash our hands a lot, especially these days during the swine flu pandemic. Some new research out Thursday offers clues to what gets people to actually do it. And guess what? Shame appears to be the best motivation. And, for guys, appealing to the gross-out factor doesn't hurt.

A team of researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine conducted an experiment in which nearly 200,000 people were monitored using electronic sensors installed in service station bathrooms along highways in Britain.

Only about a third of the men washed their hands with soap after using the bathrooms, compared to about 64 percent of the women, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

A variety of messages, such as "Water doesn't kill germs, soap does" and "Don't be a dirty soap dodger" were flashed on LED screens at the entrances of the bathrooms to determine how best to motivate people to wash their hands. Most of the messages helped increase hand washing, but "Is the person next to you washing with soap?" turned out to be the best of all, illustrating that people respond the most when they think someone is watching them.

Women tended to respond best to any kind of reminder, while men tended to respond best to messages that invoked disgust, such as "soap it off or eat it later," the researchers found.

The findings were released to coincide with "Global Handwashing Day," which is aimed at improving handwashing around the world to help fight the swine flu pandemic and reduce the spread of germs that cause diarrhea and other diseases.

My question: why is it customary for males to wash their hands after urination? I never do, which shocks and disgusts some of my guy friends. I bathe daily and wear fresh underpants, so how does my penis get dirty? It's not like I dig a ditch with it. However, my hands might get dirty from daily activities. Is it not more sensible then to wash my hands before touching my clean penis? Is posturination hand washing a throwback to the bad old days, when sex was "dirty" and so, by extension, were sex organs? I'm serious about this. Please advise.

Dear Tom:

Good (if elderly) joke. Common (but stupid) attitude. Rank (but important) topic. Some facts: The purpose of washing is not to get pee off your hands. No amount of washing will make you clean. You have to do it anyway.

I've said this before: your boxer-shorts region--from belly button to mid-thigh--is crawling with germs known as coliform bacteria. These bacteria originated in your intestine, and some of them are deadly. Remember punji stakes? They were sharpened sticks that the Vietcong concealed point up along trails and daubed with excrement. If you stepped on one you had a good chance of contracting a fatal infection. Similarly, an otherwise not-so-serious gunshot or knife injury could kill you if it perforated the intestine and allowed coliform bacteria to spread around your abdomen.

But you know this (or at least you ought to). What you may not know is that washing will not make the coliform bacteria go away. They're holed up in the pores of your skin and nothing short of sandblasting--certainly not your morning shower--is going to get them out. Showering merely gets rid of the ones that have strayed onto the surface. The bacteria won't do much harm if they stay put, but when you urinate your fingers come in contact with Mister P. long enough for the coliform bacteria in your pores to hop aboard. Your fingers subsequently touch lots of other infectible items. If you don't wash your hands with soap and water (soap gets rid of the skin oil that the bacteria stick to) . . . hello, Typhoid Mary.

It now dawns on you: jeez, if merely touching my privates is enough to transmit bacteria, it doesn't matter if I pee or not! Just so. Urine itself is actually fairly sterile. Cecil has read reports of it being used during wartime in poor countries as--I'm not making this up--a sort of battlefield Bactine. (U.S. doctors generally blanch at this.) The lesson to draw from this, however, is not that you can go forth dripping (yuck), but rather that just because you didn't pee on your fingers doesn't mean you can skip washing up.

No comments:

Post a Comment