The recent E. coli O104:H4 outbreak has set us thinking about handwashing again. (We've tackled it before in Now wash your hands)
It’s very difficult to change people’s behaviour and to prove my point, just watch this video
“Do Shocking Images Change Hygiene Behavior”. The video refers to a study from University of Denver "Using a relevant threat, EPPM and interpersonal communication to change hand-washing behaviours on campus" which found that making you feel awful about what might be on your hands works better than appealing to the conscience.
But as well as “yuck” factor signs which seem to work on the Denver students, I wondered what else could be done..
For a start all commercial food-handlers and public toilets should be supplied with antiseptic soap, and I bet there’s a rush to do this now! But hand-washing with soap is only as effective as your hand-washing technique… you really need to identify those missed areas.
Could the contamination be visualised on your hands so that you could see where you need to wash with soap? (as with plaque-revealing mouthwash for teeth) or is there a UV device (to reveal not to sterilise) which you can put your hands into after washing, located say strategically next to the air hand-dryer?
Hospital staff are trained to hand-wash correctly by using a solution which contains a “glow-bug” reagent: when it binds to bacteria and viruses it will glow under UV light. They treat their hands with the solution, wash with soap and then put them under UV to see how well they have done. (A glow-powder sprinkled onto hard surfaces will reveal under UV how well you cleaned the surface.)
But I can’t see that happening with the general public, so a soap which visually dyes the bacteria would be better.
Incidentally, another UV-glowing powder has actually been used to track the potential spread of avian pathogens from live poultry to people, via county fairs. Researchers from Minnesota, focussed on 2 county fairs in Midwest America (2004), in “The trojan chicken study”(!) Just 2 show birds were sprinkled surreptitiously with the powder but 8 of the 94 poultry exhibitors then showed contamination with the powder: so one can assume that anyone they shook hands with …
My final thoughts:
To paraphrase “Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy”. When visiting the toilet it is vitally important to… “wash your hands with soap and water".
Will paranoia take over? AS well as alcohol based hand-sanitiser, will we all be wandering around with our own personal nailbrush and bacteria-revealing antiseptic soap?