Wait… What was that again? It’s GOOD to wash your hands?

Staphylococcus aureus: There are some other photos of staph out there, but they all seem to involve a ton of pus.     (Photo by Estherase on flickr.com)
Staphylococcus aureus: There are some other photos of staph out there, but they all seem to involve a ton of pus. (Photo by Estherase on flickr.com)Courtesy Esther Simpson
Hand washing, nose picking, good hygiene, we all know about this stuff right? Do it, do it in the sanitary privacy of your bathroom, and do it, respectively. Dirty hands spread germs, and germs spread infections – we know this, and, consequently, are as clean as a nation of whistles. Or are we?

I recently catalogued ten everyday and seemingly harmless activities that I do, and then researched their hygienic ups and downs. I urge you to follow along, see which activities you do, and then tally up your hygiene score. I think you might be surprised…

1) Put dirty laundry in the washing machine.
2) Prepare a ham sandwich.
3) Give/receive a high-five.
4) Turn on a light switch.
5) Wash your hands.
6) Clean the cat box using only your fingers.
7) Touch a friend’s face.
8) Pet the dog.
9) Hold hands with a stranger.
10) Become hospitalized.

Okay. Now, being honest, figure out your score using this key:
1) –3, 2) –1, 3) –6, 4) –5, 5) +10, 6) –15, 7) –9, 8) –4, 9) –11, 10) –31.

And, remember, if you’ve washed your hands more than once, you get points for each time. Also, if you have, say, cleaned more than one cat box with just your fingers, take away fifteen points for each time.

So… how did you score? Uh huh, I thought so.

The score for the last item, becoming hospitalized, may be something of a surprise to you. However, a recent article in The New York Times has highlighted the huge difference that increased sanitary conditions makes in cutting infection rates. Simple things like more frequent hand washing, glove wearing, and better isolating patients known to carry certain pathogens has cut infection rates in hospitals as much as 78 percent.

It seems obvious enough, although some hospital administrators are hesitant to commit to change, fearing the increased costs associated with some procedures, and citing the fact that isolated patients often receive less attention from hospital staff, and are more likely to suffer from falls, bedsores, and increased stress.

Dealing with infections acquired in the hospital, on the other hand, can be dangerous and extremely expensive. One of the main culprits is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA can be carried into hospitals by patients who demonstrate no symptoms, and can be passed by unwashed hands. If MRSA gets into a wound, it can cause anything from a painful sore to a fatal infection. By screening patients as they enter care, though, MRSA has been all but eliminated in countries like The Netherlands and Finland. Some states in the US are required to test certain high-risk patients for bacterium like MRSA, but very few hospitals screen all incoming patients.

Should the government require hospitals to screen all patients for MRSA? It’s not cheap, but it would save lives and probably money in the long run.
And could you possible think of a better way to clean the litter box than my tried-and-true bare hands method? Honestly?

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