Protect yourself: No change in Aussies’ handwashing habits amid pandemic

Oct 14, 2020
One in five admitted they don't always wash their hands after using the toilet. Source: Getty.

For months, we’ve been told to maintain high standards of personal hygiene and to wash our hands more frequently due to the ongoing global health crisis caused by the outbreak of Covid-19. But, despite the fact that more than 1 million people have died worldwide, it seems some people still aren’t taking the health risks seriously.

A new study has revealed that Australians are not washing their hands any more than they were this time last year, when no one had even heard of Covid-19.

The survey, carried out by Omnipoll on behalf of the Food Safety Information Council, showed that one in five Australians still aren’t washing their hands after using the toilet. More than 1,200 people aged 18 and over took part in the online survey in August, and the same questions were asked as in 2019.

“This year the greatest improvement was a 4 per cent increase in the number of people who said they always wash their hands after going to the toilet (up from 79% to 83%) but that still means almost 1 in 5 Australians don’t always adhere to this most basic of hygiene messages!” said Lydia Buchtmann from the Food Safety Information Council. “The research indicated that more people are putting themselves at risk of food poisoning, as there was a 5 per cent drop in the number of respondents (from 63 per cent to 58 per cent) always washing their hands before handling food.”

The survey also revealed a gender gap when it comes to hygiene practices, with men found to be less likely than women to always wash their hands after using the toilet (80 per cent, compared to 85 per cent) and before touching food (53 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women).

The research also found that, while 20 per cent of respondents couldn’t recall how often they wash their hands, most people claimed to wash their hands an an average of 7.5 times a day and sanitise them 3.9 times a day. This comes after a recent study by University College London suggested that people should wash their hands 6 to 10 times a day to reduce their risk of catching viral infections.

“While the Food Safety Information Council’s major concern is to reduce the estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning each year, we recognise that good hand hygiene can also reduce your risk of Covid-19 and other viral infections,” Buchtmann added. “Health and hand washing go hand in hand, after all.”

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus at the start of the year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a simple five-step process that everyone should follow to remove any germs or bacteria they may have come into contact with.

First, wet your hands with clean, running water, then turn off the tap and apply soap thoroughly. This doesn’t mean squirting a little onto your hands and rubbing for two seconds, you really have to get in there. Lather yours hands by rubbing them together, including the back, between your fingers and under your nails. You should scrub for at least 20 seconds – which works out to be humming the Happy Birthday tune from start to finish twice – and then rinse well under clean, running water. As for drying them, don’t just wipe your hands on your dirty pants, instead use a clean towel or let them air dry.

However, if you want some extra protection, you can also use hand sanitiser. The CDC recommends those made with at least 60 per cent alcohol, as they’ll be more effective in killing off germs. It should clearly state the alcohol content on the bottle, so have a quick check before heading to the counter.

When applying the gel, you should squeeze a small amount onto one palm and rub your hands together thoroughly until they’re dry. This means the backs of your hands and fingers as well – it should take you about 20 seconds. But, be warned, using hand sanitiser alone, without proper hand washing won’t get rid of all types of germs. So, make sure to scrub with soap and water first.

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