For Humanity’s Sake, Wash Your Hands! And Look Good Doing It!

Do you use hot water when you wash your hands? Do you spend longer than 10 seconds when washing your hands? Or are you the type of person that utilizes the restrooms in a hurried fashion and then bolts out, skipping over the ritual of killing the bacteria that is festering on your hands? Although I am completely against some commercial anti-bacterial soaps, I am still a believer of a healthy and clean body. That being said, wash your hands before you shake mine! And people wonder why some of us are antisocial.

A study conducted at Michigan State University yielded that from a sample size of 3,739 people observed in a college town, only 5.3 percent washed their hands for 15 or more seconds. 10 percent of this did not wash their hands at all, and although this is a low amount, it still translates to over 350 people who don’t wash their hands in that area. If this is a true representation of the population then 10 percent of all the people you encounter are touching you or shaking your hand with filthy, unwashed hands. EWWWW. Also, the 95 percent that are not washing their hands for 20 seconds or more are not paying attention to their washing techniques and are not effectively killing off germs which can spread diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC:

Failing to wash or insufficiently washing hands contributes to almost 50% of all food-borne illness outbreaks

But it isn’t completely the fault of the observed, the study also found that the cleanliness of a place contributes to the likely hood of washing ones hands. This definitely makes sense because if I see a sink or faucet with weird brown stains or boogers all over it then I will usually seek out alternative ways to clean my hands. And no, rubbing your hands together to create heat to theoretically kill the bacteria does not help.

Fun fact, the CDC also says that you should wash your hands:

  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After touching an animal or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

But why all this emphasis on washing your hands after these daily activities? Why does it really matter?

Well, give it a good mulling over: You use your hands to feel and grab and touch everything throughout the day. You are strolling down to the nearest park and you run your finger across the rail on the sidewalk. You get on a train and you grab the overhead bar to keep stability during your ride. You grab a taxi and you hold the door that thousands have held before you. The restroom others have been in, the chair others have sat in, the weights others have grabbed. Not to mention the object you just grabbed or touched has a chance of containing fecal matter from another person. A study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that out of the 404 commuters they observed, 28% had bacteria on their hands originating from fecal matter. Gross, I know.

The worst part about all this is that we use our hands to touch our face at least a hundred times a day. My are we conceded. The point is not to become a germaphobe, but to stay aware of the way sickness and disease is spread, and how it all starts with your hands. Damnit man, just wash your hands!

The best way to wash your hands is to wet your hands, rub them together for at least 20 seconds, and then rinse and dry your hands. Make sure to give it that 20 precious seconds, 10 or less just doesn’t cut it. Tedious, I know. But hey! If all else fails here is an awesome way to help you wash your hands. Think of all the doctor visits you can avoid and all the fun singalong time you can experience!

Now if only we could find an easy way to keep our bellybuttons clean. Cheers!

 

Sources:

Today Health: Dirty America

MSU: Handwashing Practices

Dirty Hands: Bacteria of Faecal Origin

Youtube: Wash Your Hands Song

CDC Handwashing

Wondergressive: The Secret World of Bacteria

Wondergressive: Stay Away From Antibacterial Soap

Wondergressive: Obamacare

Wondergressive: Belly Button Bacteria

 

 

Belly Buttons: Bacteria Wonderland!

bacteria of the belly button

Petri dishes of belly button bacteria
Photo Credit: Neil McCoy

A recent study published in PLOS ONE has guided us to a greater knowledge of which bacteria are commonly found in belly buttons. The Smithsonian article on the study sums it up pretty well, saying:

A team of researchers dug into 60 different people’s belly buttons and turned up bacterial diversity and microbial mystery. All in all, they identified more than 2,000 species of bacteria as well as two species of archaea, the ancient predecessors of bacteria. Some of the species frequently occurred in multiple belly buttons, while others were confined to just a few participants.

Microbe World, a website dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of key microbiological issues, gives a little insight as to where archaea are normally found stating that:

Archaea comes from the Greek word meaning “ancient.” An appropriate name, because many archaea thrive in conditions mimicking those found more than 3.5 billion years ago. Back then, the earth was still covered by oceans that regularly reached the boiling point — an extreme condition not unlike the hydrothermal vents and sulfuric waters where archaea are found today.

Some scientists consider archaea living fossils that may provide hints about what the earliest life forms on Earth were like, and how life evolved on our planet.

So, various bacteria, including previously unknown bacteria, and two archaea were found in a small range of North American belly buttons.  But the researchers aren’t finished yet.  In a guest blog on Scientific American, Rob Dunn, the study’s lead author, talks of a future research plan saying:

Instead of the 66 samples we included in our first paper, or the 300 we have now, we will soon have over 600 samples of people processed, people from all over North America. With this variety, we may well begin to explain the differences among people in terms of the intimate forests of their umbilicus. On the other hand, we may still be unable to account for our differences; it may be that part of what determines who lives on you is stochastic, a fancy scientific word for what happens when fate and the universe’s contingencies come together in your navel.

Carl Zimmer, another scientist working with the project talks of his results in a blog post on the Discover website. He had a very diverse spread of bacteria in his belly button and 17 bacteria that were not found in any of the other subjects.

I know that diversity can make ecosystems work better. One of the most important services that our microbial ecosystem performs for us is protecting us from pathogens. They can outcompete invaders, kill them with poisons, and otherwise ward them off. Scientists have run experiments to test the effect of diversity on infections. They manipulated mice so that some had no resident bacteria, and others had low levels of diversity. The researchers found that pathogens did a better job of invading low-diversity mice than high-diversity ones.

Several of the bacteria found in people’s navels had never been found on humans before and Zimmer discusses some of the bacteria found in his navel in his blog post saying:

Several species I’ve got, such as Marimonas, have only been found in the ocean before. I am particular baffled that I carry a species called Georgenia. Before me, scientists had only found it living in the soil.

 

In Japan.

Belly buttons aren’t the only place where thriving biomes are being discovered. Scientists have discovered a mobile ecosystem that lives in freezing temperatures. The world is so intriguing! Life is everywhere!

 

Sources and Extra Reading for the Curious:

PLOS ONE- A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable

The Smithsonian- A Flourishing Microbial Community Dwells Within Your Belly Button

The Scientist- Navel Bugs

Microbe World- Archaea 

Scientific American – After 2 Years Scientists Still Can’t Solve Belly Button Mystery, Continue Navel-Gazing

Discover- Discovering my microbiome: “You, my friend, are a wonderland”

Wondergressive- The Secret World of Bacteria

Wondergressive- New Ecosystem Discovered: Glacier Mice

Wondergressive- Life, It’s All Over the Place

Wondergressive- 2800 Year Old Lake Life Survives in Complete Isolation