Single page view By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

News Item: A national study of public bathroom use by the American Microbiology Society and the Soap and Detergent Association found that one-quarter of men exit without washing their hands -- compared to only 10 percent of women -- and that the worst hygiene came at Atlanta's Turner Field, where 37 percent of men departed sans scrubbing.

I know what you're thinking.



Note to self: No shaking hands with Ted Turner.

Good points, all. But hold up. Put away the surgical gloves. Hear me out.

Don't group Braves backers with cockroaches and plague-infested wharf rats just yet.

As much as I detest Atlanta supporters -- can't sell out playoff games, the annoying appropriation of Florida State's tomahawk chop -- I've gotta stick up for Turner Field's great unwashed masses. Not to mention sink-adverse male sports fans in general.

After all, the 37 percent figure seems kinda low.

Once thousands of tailgaters descend on the stadium bathrooms, things get messy.

Look, I don't mean to impugn the integrity of a hygiene report commissioned by something called the Soap and Detergent Association. Far from it.

After all, this is nothing like Halliburton's reporting that Americans don't use enough gasoline. Nor does it compare to McDonald's releasing a study detailing the nation's tragic deficiencies in dietary fat and sodium.

Nope, this hygiene report is undoubtedly on the up and up, free of a hidden agenda. Much like the Fox News Channel.

Still, what bothers me is the study's finger-wagging implication: Sports fans ought to wash their hands more. Here are the numbers to prove it.

"Although many Americans are beginning to recognize the importance of washing their hands, we still need to reach many others," said AMS secretary Judy Daly, a microbiologist at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Oh, really?

Au contraire.

Well-intentioned or otherwise, the hygiene report smacks of misguided, namby-pamby, mommy-knows-best paternalism. At best.

At worst, it reflects a clear and obvious hatred of freedom. And probably puppies, too.

To wit: the report observed bathroom users at Turner Field, Chicago's Museum of Science and Shedd Aquarium, New York's Grand Central and Penn Stations and San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Market.

Left out of the study? Tora Bora. Hmmm. As if Osama and Co. are avid hand-washers. Don't they deserve a little bad publicity of their own? Fishy stuff. And what about those long beards? Those can't be easy to keep lice-free.

Ooops. I digress. Back to the bathroom report. As is the case with atomic bombs, the underlying theory -- more washing, less spreading of germs -- is sound. But the practical application leaves something to be desired.

To put things another way: Have any of these scientists actually used a stadium men's bathroom?

Let's start with the need to wash. The overrated need to wash.

According to microbiologists, cold and flu viruses are often transmitted by touch -- for instance, shaking hands with an infected person who has just covered up a sneeze. Because viruses can survive for as long as 20 minutes on hard, dry surfaces like door and toilet handles, public restrooms are high-risk areas. Failing to scrub becomes foolhardly.


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