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America's Dirty Hands

America's hand-washing habits might not be up to snuff - or sniffles, a new survey shows.

In the survey, two-thirds of Americans admit they might not always wash their hands properly. And the results aren't much better overseas.

The survey comes from the newly-formed Lysol Hygiene Council. Lysol's products include cleaners and disinfectants.

The survey included more than 8,000 people in eight countries: the U.S., U.K., Italy, Germany, United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia, and South Africa.

Participants answered five questions about hygiene and the importance of washing their hands.

One question covered the best way to stop germs from spreading. Another asked about situations where good hygiene calls for hand washing.

The answers may make you want to think twice before shaking someone's hand.

Data on Dirty Hands

A thousand Americans participated, evenly split between men and women. All were at least 18 years old.

Here are the percentages who admitted they might not wash their hands properly in these situations:

  • After sneezing or coughing: 37%
  • After handling animals or pets: 27%
  • Before eating or handling food: 10%
  • After going to the toilet: 7%

A bit more than three in 10 said they wouldn't skip or skimp on hand washing in any of those situations. But the remaining 69% didn't make that clean-hands claim.

It's not that Americans don't know hand washing is important.

Two-thirds said hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of germs, and more than three-quarters said they had become more aware of hygiene's importance in the last few years.

Dirtiest Hands?

Dirty hands were more common in only one other survey country: Germany.

Only a quarter of German participants claimed to wash their hands properly in all of the situations mentioned above. And 13% said they might not wash after using a toilet.

Views on hygiene varied among countries.

For instance, the top picks among Indian participants for curbing the spread of germs at home were:

  • Regularly disinfect surfaces: 75%
  • Wash hands: 15%
  • Avoid kissing and close physical contact with friends and family: 11%
  • Prevent animals from entering the house: 10%

In Malaysia, about 15% said that in order to protect against flu they wouldn't travel abroad.

In South Africa, one in five surveyed said the best way to protect against flu is to avoid public places.

According to the CDC, the single best way to prevent flu is to get a flu vaccine each fall. Washing your hands is also important in preventing the spread of germs, notes the CDC's web site.

9 Tips for Clean Hands

If you need to brush up on your hand-washing, here are some tips from the CDC:

  • Wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds.
  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap.
  • Use warm water if available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all hand surfaces.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds -- the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry hands using a paper towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.
  • If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands.

SOURCES: Lysol Hygiene Council, "Global Hygiene Practices: Survey Results." News release, Lysol. CDC: "Preventing the Flu." CDC: "Clean Hands Save Lives!"

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang