A trip to the restroom should be simple.
Step one: Relieve yourself.
Step Two: Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
But for a lot of people a trip to the restroom only contains step one. When I witness that someone doesn’t wash their hands, I cringe as I think of all the things they will infect next and how I’m going to touch the door handle without touching their urine and excrement bacteria.
Hand-washing is the most basic technique to prevent against infection.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that you wash your hands with warm water and soap (for 20 seconds or sing “The Birthday song”) after doing the following activities:
- “Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used a toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage”
The CDC recommends warm water and soap as the primary way to clean hands. If there is no clean water available, it suggests that you use soap and whatever available water there is. If soap and water aren’t available, the CDC suggests that you use an alcohol based hand sanitizer that uses at least 60% alcohol.
So why do some people choose not to wash their hands after using the restroom?
The answer is perceived susceptibility, a person’s belief about his/her “risk of contracting a health condition”.
If a person believes that there is a low risk of getting an illness by abstaining from washing his/her hands after using the restroom, they will not wash their hands. Contrarily, if a person thinks there is a high risk of getting an illness by not washing his/her hands, hands will be washed.
A lot of things go into developing one’s perceived susceptibility. The Health Belief model states that a person must take into account perceived severity, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers in order to form a perceived susceptibility.
For example, a person walks in to a restroom and relieves himself/herself.
This person will think of the negative consequences of not washing hands (perceived severity).
This same person will think of the positive consequences of washing hands (perceived benefits).
And, this person will think about the potential barriers to washing hands (availability of water and soap, time).
Personal experiences, cultural beliefs, quality of education can effect one’s perceived severity, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers.
Here are some of the most common reasons why I hear that people choose not to wash hands after relieving themselves:
I don’t have enough time:
The CDC suggest only 20 seconds of your time to wash your hands. If you are in that much of a hurry that you don’t have 20 seconds, maybe you need to work on your time management skills. You will be spending even more time (a couple of days off work/school) trying to recuperate after getting sick because you did not wash your hands. Singing the birthday song instead of counting to 20 might make time seem like its going by faster.
I just went #1/I just urinated:
Whether you urinate or have a bowel movement, you still come in contact with germs. Urine and excrement are both a result of your body getting rid of waste or things that could be harmful to your body. Toilet tissue may be a barrier between you and your body, but bacteria and viruses are much smaller than the eye can see. These harmful things can pass through the toilet tissue and end up on your hand.
I have hand sanitizer:
Hand sanitizer is recommended by the CDC only if warm water and soap aren’t available. If there is a sink and soap in the restroom, it would be wise to use them.
I want to use less water and help save the environment:
You can help save the environment by preventing the spread of harmful diseases. Chances are, you use more water while bathing or cooking than you do while washing your hands.
According to several hand-washing studies, hand-washing reduced “the amount of people with diarrhea by 31%, reduced diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%, and respiratory/cold-like illnesses by 21%”.
So, please remember to wash your hands after you use the restroom. Feel free to pass on this information to everyone you know so that we can stop spreading illnesses that can easily be prevented.
If you personally know someone that does not wash hands after using the restroom, feel free to send them a hand-washing e-card sponsored by the CDC.