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Another US airport travel hazard dirty hands

CHICAGO - September 15, 2003 - Does it take an outbreak of a frightening, potentially fatal infectious disease like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or a gastrointestinal illness on a cruise ship to get people to follow Mom's advice to "wash your hands after using the bathroom?" Apparently, it may.

Results of a new survey announced today at the 43rd Annual Interscience Conference of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) show that many people still aren't washing their hands in public places, exposing others to the risk of infection, despite recent outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Although illnesses as deadly as SARS and as troublesome as the common cold or gastric distress can be spread hand-to-hand, the survey sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) found that many people passing through major US airports don't wash their hands after using the public facilities. More than 30 percent of people using restrooms in New York airports, 19 percent of those in Miami's airport, and 27 percent of air travelers in Chicago aren't stopping to wash their hands. The survey, conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide in August 2003, observed 7,541 people in public washrooms in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, and Toronto.

In contrast to airports in the United States, the vast majority of travelers using the airport restrooms in Toronto, Canada a city which experienced a major SARS outbreak washed almost every time.

US airport observations contrast sharply with an August 2003 Wirthlin telephone survey of 1,000 Americans, in which 95 percent said that they wash their hands in public restrooms. The same phone survey which found only 58 percent of people say they wash their hands after sneezing or coughing and only 77 percent say they wash their hands after changing a diaper highlights the seriousness of the problem.

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Contact: Jim Sliwa
jsliwa@asmusa.org
202-942-9297
American Society for Microbiology
15-Sep-2003


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