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An Unsolicited Opinion: Wash your damn hands!


No one is washing their hands correctly. Maybe that’s a little dramatic. I’ll revise. Very few people are washing their hands correctly. A 2013 study conducted at Michigan State University, for example, found that as few as five percent of people are washing their hands correctly after they use the restroom. Scientists came to this conclusion after staking out public restrooms and observing people’s bathroom habits. And though I think their data is valuable, I honestly cannot think of a worse job.

What’s more, the same study found that only 67 percent of people even attempted to wash their hands. As a hypochondriac, this boggles my mind. If you ask any medical professional what actions best prevent the spread of illness, they will tell you right off the bat that handwashing is one of the cornerstones of personal and public health safety.

Studies have found that regular hand washing can reduce the number of cases of influenza in a community—by as much as 50 percent, according to a 2011 U.S. navy and CDC study. Hand washing also greatly reduces the numbers of cases of respiratory illness and influenza-like illnesses. Proper hand washing requires that people use soap and water and scrub their hands for at least 20 seconds.

So why are so few people washing their hands correctly? I Googled this question, hoping for some studies delving into the psychology of people who ignore medical advice. Instead, I found a Vice article which interviewed people who steadfastly refuse to make any attempt at washing their hands after using the restroom. Their reasons were … not compelling.

Several said that people who do routinely wash their hands were only doing so in order “to fit into society” and because “that’s what they see in films.” I’ve racked my brain, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw anyone washing their hands in a movie or a TV show. So, I’m confident that’s not a thing.

One man confidently asserted that he simply doesn’t have the time to wash his hands after he uses the restroom. Now either he is so incredibly, unbelievably important and busy that he can’t spare 20 seconds several times a day, or that’s a bullshit excuse. He also criticized modern society for being “too [sterilized]” and “not natural.” Which, I mean, fair point. What sort of person doesn’t long for the olden days before unnatural things like soap, antibiotics and vaccines wiped out all those amazing, natural pathogens like polio, smallpox, and the plague?

Finally, my favorite excuse came from a man who bemoaned that handwashing wastes “water and soap and disposable paper towels.” The bravery and commitment required of this eco-warrior to disregard the advice of horrible, earth-destroying institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization leaves me truly awed. I guess if I was forced to critique his position, I would point out that preventing the spread of illness is an effective means of conserving resources.

I imagine it takes quite a lot of water and soap to care for large numbers of sick people. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year the flu costs the United States approximately 10.4 billion dollars in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits. Countries around the world also spend massive amounts of money on treating and containing illnesses. Instead of refusing to wash his hands in the name of water conservation, maybe this guy realize that reducing the spread of illness could free some other resources.

In short, there aren’t any good excuses for not regularly washing your hands. So why wouldn’t you do it? Seriously, why wouldn’t you? Many people on campus are sick, and the flu is widespread in Iowa right now. This flu season is also shaping up to be deadlier than usual. As

of the end of December 2019, eleven people in Iowa had died of the flu. So, please, for your health and the health of everyone around you, wash your damn hands

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