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Clean up your act on Global Handwashing Day

14 October 2014

Global Handwashing Day takes places on 15th October and is organised by the UN to encourage a global culture of handwashing.

Endorsed by governments, international institutions, NGOs, private companies and individuals around the world, it aims to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing and good hand hygiene among children and schools in particular, but over 200 million people across 100 countries are involved in the activities.

A study into hand hygiene reveals that hands harbour a staggering 30,203% more bacteria than many public surfaces, meaning hands are far more likely to make us unwell than grubby surfaces.

In the research, commissioned by water-based sanitiser brand Aquaint, twenty-five swabs were taken from multiple high street and shopping centre locations in the UK, collected from surfaces including tables, public benches, escalator handrails, high chairs and children’s ride-on toys. In all cases, the surfaces were given a ‘poor’ visual rating, which indicates stains, debris and signs of wear. The samples were then laboratory tested for a range of harmful bacteria including staphylococcus, E.coli and enterobacteriaceae, which have all been linked to illnesses and deaths.

The overall quantity of bacteria measured in public spaces was actually relatively low – 33,000 in the worst example, from a wooden public bench. Whereas, the average person carries over 10 million bacteria on the hands alone, and a University of Arizona study (2012) found that a typical kitchen sponge will contain several million bacteria.

Alongside this study, Aquaint polled members of the public on habits and attitudes to germs. Unsurprisingly, 92% of those polled said they would avoid dirty looking tables and seats, citing health as the primary concern. By contrast, only 13% said they would avoid eating unless they had washed or cleansed their hands.

This indifference towards hand washing tallies with research by Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in 2012, which found that faecal matter is present on 26% of hands in the UK. Faecal matter is rife with germs – around one billion per gram. The UN estimates that hand washing alone could save more than a million lives a year from diarrhoeal diseases and prevent respiratory infections.

Bola Lafe, founder of Aquaint water-based sanitiser, says: "This study highlights the fact that people avoid what they believe will make them unwell when in fact public surfaces contain less harmful bacteria than we think. Our hands operate a highly effective public transport network for bacteria and viruses, and germs can be easily transmitted from our hands to our mouths. Global Handwashing Day is a great way to raise awareness of the importance of good hand hygiene to help prevent disease."

"Here at Aquaint, we strongly recommend that Brits look at their own hand hygiene habits on Global Handwashing Day and cleanse their hands regularly during the day; before and after eating, after using the toilet and when coming into contact with other hands, e.g. shaking hands."

Find out more about Global Handwashing Day here: http://globalhandwashing.org/ghw-day