Hidden Germs: What Lurks on Your Hands

ByElisabeth Leamy via via logo

April 16, 2007 — -- Washing your hands takes just 20 seconds and can help prevent 200 different diseases; however, according to one study, only two-thirds of people wash their hands after using the bathroom.

"Good Morning America" tested how bacteria can spread as a result of poor handwashing at the University of Maryland.

Per instructions, 13 college students rubbed an unidentified white lotion into their hands. They then went about their day the way they always do.

The lotion, unbeknownst to them, was designed to reveal how well its wearers wash their hands during a day. If a person doesn't wash their hands well enough to scrub it off, the lotion glows, effectively simulating bacteria present and showing how it could spread to other areas.

The students went to their classes, touching door knobs, handling money and working on computers. They all ate lunch and they used the bathroom.

At the end of the day, the students were all put into a room with no windows. They then looked at their hands under a black light.

"It was kind of nasty to see all that stuff on your hands especially in the nail beds and stuff," one of the students, Spiro Dimakis, said.

There were telltale sparkles of the lotion around fingernails, in the lines of palms, crusted around bandages and caked next to rings and watches. None of the students did a very good job of washing their wrists.

"I shower like three times a day, though. I'm not a dirty person," another student, Christina Finke, said.

The lotion also spread just as bacteria might spread. It was on the students' sleeves, pants, arms and even near eyes and noses where it could cause an infection.

"I learned that college students are not as clean as I thought --and to not high five people," Maria Jaunakais, a student, said.

Despite reminder signs posted in campus bathrooms, only two of the 13 students passed the GMA germ test.

To wash properly, the water should be as hot as you can stand it, which doesn't kill bacteria, does make it slide off your hands. Regular soap is fine. In fact, experts worry that anti-bacterial soap gives people a false sense of security so they don't wash as thoroughly.

When you're washing, really focus on your nail beds and between your fingers. and don't skip the backs of your hands or your wrists either.

If you wear rings, keep them on, and just sort of move them back and forth with the soap. You should spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing, about long enough to say the alphabet. Most people only wash for five seconds.

Finally, flip off the faucet with your forearm and dry with a paper towel if possible.

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