Don’t shake hands with a Northerner.

The further north you go in England, the more likely you are to have faecal bacteria on your hands. And if you’re using the London Tube (underground railway) it’s an even bigger pile of sh*t than you ever thought. This story by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that one in four commuters have faecal bacteria on their hands. So the North-South divide is perhaps more fundamental than we realised.  And I speak as a Northerner. Are my hands clean? Does a bear go to church? Does the Pope……..

The further north you go, the more likely you are to have faecal bacteria on your hands, especially if you are a man, according to a preliminary study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

But women living in the South and Wales have little to feel smug about. In London, they are three times as likely as their men folk to have dirty hands, and in Cardiff, twice as likely. The men of London registered the most impressive score among all those surveyed, with a mere 6% found to have faecal bugs on their hands. Overall more than one on four commuters have bacteria which come from faeces on their hands.

The Dirty Hands Study was conducted in order to provide a snapshot of the nation’s hand hygiene habits, as part of the world’s first Global Handwashing Day today. Commuters’ hands were swabbed at bus stops outside five train stations around the UK (Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, Euston and Cardiff).

The results indicated that commuters in Newcastle were up to three times more likely than those in London to have faecal bacteria on their hands (44% compared to 13%) while those in Birmingham and Cardiff were roughly equal in the hand hygiene stakes (23% and 24% respectively). Commuters in Liverpool also registered a high score for faecal bacteria, with a contamination rate of 34%.

In Newcastle and Liverpool, men were more likely than women to show contamination (53% of men compared to 30% of women in Newcastle, and 36% of men compared to 31% of women in Liverpool), although in the other three centres, the women’s hands were dirtier. Almost twice as many women than men in Cardiff were found to have contamination (29% compared to 15 %) while in Euston, they were more than three times likelier than the men to have faecal bacteria on their hands (the men here registered an impressive 6%, compared to a rate of 21% in the women). In Birmingham, the rate for women was slightly higher than the men (26% compared to 21%).

The bacteria that were found are all from the gut, and do not necessarily always cause disease, although they do indicate that hands have not been washed properly.

Dr Val Curtis, Director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, comments: ‘We were flabbergasted by the finding that so many people had faecal bugs on their hands. The figures were far higher than we had anticipated, and suggest that there is a real problem with people washing their hands in the UK. If any of these people had been suffering from a diarrhoeal disease, the potential for it to be passed around would be greatly increased by their failure to wash their hands after going to the toilet’.

For more information, or to interview the investigators, please contact Gemma Howe in the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Press Office on 0207 927 2802 or gemma.howe@lshtm.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

Global Handwashing Day was initiated by the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (www.globalhandwashing.org), which is dedicated to promoting handwashing with soap to reduce diarrhoea in developing countries and implement large-scale handwashing interventions by combining the expertise and resources of the soap industry with the facilities and resources of governments. Global Handwashing Day activities are being implemented in more than forty countries and focus on raising awareness among policymakers and the public about the role handwashing plays in public health.

For more information about Global Handwashing Day, please go to:
www.globalhandwashingday.org. All materials on the website are available to be downloaded, or can be used in publication.

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