Humor by Mark Bazer

I've always washed my hands a lot. Before meals, after meals, after touching people and things, after waving hello in potentially dirty air. ...

This used to be considered something of a sickness. Now, it seems, I'm a pioneer.

Hand washing is in the news because of a groundbreaking hand-washing study that has made previous hand-washing research obsolete and changed the field of Hand-Washing Studies as we know it.

Here are the facts from the study: Ninety-six percent of adults say they wash their hands in public restrooms. And of the four percent who don't, two percent say they badly want to wash but don't understand the instructions posted on the wall.

These are astounding numbers, but here's the rub:

The researchers, from the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute, also observed people in public restrooms -- and found only 85 percent of people actually washed!

The discrepancy may be because some people who don't wash their hands lie and say they do. But it seems more likely that people didn't wash because they wanted to quickly leave a restroom in which someone was standing there watching them. Especially if he had a clipboard.

Anyhow, before we move on, here's the LOCAL ANGLE:

Chicago tied San Francisco for the "best-observed hand washing" at 89 percent, and the "best overall hand-washing regimen" was at the Museum of Science and Industry, with 93 percent. The latter stat, though, could be because the observations were done when the museum was running its special Interactive Gonorrhea exhibit.

All told, hand-washing rates are higher than they've ever been since washing your hands was invented in 1996. Or maybe that's when they started studying hand washing; I read the press release rather quickly.

You probably didn't need a study to know this. From hand-sanitizer dispensers in offices to wipes on the way into grocery stores, society has caught up with us germaphobes. We always knew you would.

But is it doing any good? Are we, for example, getting fewer colds than we used to, or is it just turning everybody into neurotic, paranoid freaks?

Let's go to the ultimate authority, the government agency the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "People in the United States suffer 1 billion colds each year, according to some estimates."

In other words, they have absolutely no clue.

Far be it from me to suggest people wash their hands less, but the last thing I want is for people to someday go crazy by adopting my hygienic routine. Heck, I wash my hands after washing my hands.

So, maybe it's time to be a pioneer again. Starting now, I'll stop washing my hands after using public restrooms if you do. C'mon, let's shake on it.

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