Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2021 at 05:39 pm

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Improving the rate of handwashing at just 10 major airports could significantly slow the spread of viral diseases like the novel coronavirus…

How many times have you been to a public bathroom and seen people leave without washing their hands?

It’s gross but common.

80% of people at airports do not have clean hands

People can be surprisingly casual about washing their hands and, on average, only about 20 percent of people in airports have clean hands – meaning that they have been washed with soap and water, for at least 15 seconds, within the last hour or so.

The other 80 percent are potentially contaminating everything they touch with whatever germs they may be carrying.

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This estimate is based on data from previous research by groups including the American Society for Microbiology.

New research estimates that improving the rate of handwashing at just 10 major airports could significantly slow the spread of a viral disease.

The findings were published in late December, just before the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, but the study’s authors say that its results would apply to any such disease and are relevant to the current outbreak.

Only half of the people who wash their hands do it right

Seventy percent of the people who go to the toilet wash their hands afterwards,” says one of the study authors, Professor Christos Nicolaides of the University of Cyprus and fellow at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “The other 30 percent don’t. And of those that do, only 50 percent do it right.”

Others just rinse briefly in some water, rather than using soap and water and spending the recommended 15 to 20 seconds washing, he says.

That figure, combined with estimates of exposure to the many potentially contaminated surfaces that people come into contact within an airport, leads to the team’s estimate that about 20 percent of travellers in an airport have clean hands.

Better handwashing could slow disease spread by 70%

Improving handwashing at all of the world’s airports so that 60 percent of travellers to have clean hands at any given time, would potentially slow global disease spread by almost 70 percent, the researchers found.

Focusing on 10 airports

The study suggests that a significant reduction in disease spread could still be achieved by just picking the 10 most significant airports based on the initial location of a viral outbreak.

Focusing handwashing messaging in those 10 airports could potentially slow the disease spread by as much as 37 percent, the researchers estimate.

How to get people to improve

Even small improvements in hygiene could make a noticeable dent.

Increasing the prevalence of clean hands in all airports worldwide by just 10 percent, which the researchers think could potentially be accomplished through education, posters, public announcements, and perhaps improved access to handwashing facilities, could slow the global rate of the spread of disease by about 24 percent, they found.

Numerous studies (such as this one) have shown that such measures can increase rates of proper handwashing, Prof Nicolaides says.

“Eliciting an increase in hand-hygiene is a challenge,” he says, “but new approaches in education, awareness, and social-media nudges have proven to be effective in hand-washing engagement.”

The findings are consistent with disease control and prevention recommendations made by the World Health.

Prof Nicolaides says that one important step that could be taken to improve handwashing rates and overall hygiene at airports would be to have handwashing sinks available at many more locations, especially outside of the restrooms where surfaces tend to be highly contaminated. In addition, more frequent cleaning of surfaces that are contacted by many people could be helpful.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology via


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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.