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Braves fans wash hands of cleanliness in study

WASHINGTON -- Men are dirtier than women. So scientists confirmed by spying in public restrooms, watching as one-quarter of men left without washing their hands.

The worst offenders were at an Atlanta Braves game.

In contrast, 90 percent of the women did wash up.

Wednesday's results mark the American Society of Microbiology's latest look at how many people take what is considered the single easiest step to staying healthy: spending 20 seconds rubbing with soap under the faucet.

It also explains why these infection experts tend to use paper
towels to open bathroom doors. There is no telling what germs the
person before you left on the knob.

"It's a gamble," said microbiologist Judy Daly of Primary
Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, the society's
secretary.

Back in 1996, the society first studied how often people follow
mom's advice to always wash up after using the toilet. Researchers
lingered in public restrooms, putting on makeup or combing their
hair, while surreptitiously counting. They concluded about
one-third of people did not wash.

The group sponsored an education campaign about how hand-washing
can stop the spread of flu, diarrhea and other infectious diseases.
Every few years, researchers repeat the spying.

This time, 83 percent of people washed, reported Harris
Interactive, a research company that last month monitored more than
6,300 public restroom users for the society.

That is a little better overall. But take a closer look:

• The worst hygiene was at Atlanta's Turner Field baseball
stadium, where 37 percent of men left the bathroom without washing,
and 16 percent of the women did.

• New York's Penn Station had the biggest gender disparity, where
64 percent of men washed their hands compared with 92 percent of
women. Grand Central Station was almost as bad.

• The best hygiene was at San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Farmers
Market and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd
Aquarium, where only about 12 percent of people left without
washing.

People exaggerate about hygiene. A Harris telephone survey of
1,000 more adults found 91 percent insisted they wash in public
restrooms. Additionally, 77 percent claimed to always wash before handling or eating food, and 32 percent after coughing or sneezing.
It is hard to double-check the latter claims. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says poor hand-washing contributes to almost half of all foodborne disease outbreaks.

With influenza season approaching, microbiologists warn that it is easy to catch a cold or the flu by shaking hands with someone who just used that hand to cover a sneeze. The viruses can stay alive for two hours on hands, and for 20 minutes on hard, dry surfaces those germy hands touch.

So sneeze into your elbow instead and wash frequently. There is no need for special anti-bacterial cleansers, Daly said, although alcohol-based hand gels can substitute when soap's not available.