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How clean are your hands?

Dr Chris van Tullekan, who studies infectious diseases, investigates how dirty all our hands really are, and what is the best way to clean them.

He starts by swabbing the hands of 50 members of the great British public at Liverpool Street station in London. Microbiologist Dr Ron Cutler then grows the bacteria on those swabs until there are enough to see who was carrying what.

The results are quite shocking, but absolutely what Ron expected from his previous research:

  • Everyone had bacteria on their hands.
  • 26% of the hands were ‘heavily contaminated’ with bacteria – that is, carrying at least 3 times more than average.
  • In fact, 10% of were ‘grossly contaminated’ – they were carrying 10-50 time more than the average.
  • And 26-30% of people had faecal bacteria on their hands.

So what is the best way to clean your hands of bacteria? Well, Ron’s research shows that it’s not so much what you use, but the way that you use it.

Although antibacterial gels and foams have special chemicals in to help kill bacteria, it is the physical action of washing your hands – rubbing them together – that is the best way to get rid of them.

So good old soap and water can outperform expensive products as long as you spend the time to wash your hands properly.

Chris’ guideline is to spend as long as it takes to sing the whole song ‘Happy Birthday’ through TWICE, and to make sure you rub in between your fingers – all the place where bacteria and dirt can hide.

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