H1N1 fears improve Americans' hand washing practices.

Concerns about last year’s H1N1 virus have had an impact on Americans’ hand washing habits, according to a national survey conducted by Bradley Corp. of Menomonee Falls, a leading manufacturer of bathroom and locker room furnishings, including sinks, faucets, hand dryers, showers and lockers.

In Bradley’s second Healthy Hand Washing Survey, 50% of the 1,053 respondents said they “wash their hands more thoroughly or longer or more frequently” in public restrooms as a result of the H1N1 virus – that’s up from 45% in 2009 when the same question was asked, according to a news release.

“It’s certainly a move in the right direction,” says medical microbiologist Michael McCann, a professor of biology and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “It’s always a positive sign when we hear that more people are doing a better job washing their hands because hand washing is one of the easiest things to do to keep well.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is unequivocal about the benefits of hand washing, calling it critical in preventing infection and illness:

“Hand washing is a simple thing to do and it’s the best way to prevent infection and illness,” the agency says. And by “washing your hands,” the CDC notes that nothing beats good old soap and water.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adults average two to four colds a year and children have about six to 10. In fact, the common cold is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.

In addition, each year 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications, says the CDC. Studies show that most healthy adults may be able to infect others one day prior to becoming sick and for five to seven days after they first develop symptoms.

“Since hand washing is the first defense in fighting off cold and flu germs, it’s important to educate the public,” says Jon Dommisse, director of marketing and product development at Bradley Corp. “We hope our Healthy Hand Washing Survey calls attention to this important practice and the benefits of hand washing.”

Bradley’s Healthy Hand Washing Survey was conducted online July 7-15, 2010, and queried 1,053 American adults about their hand washing habits in public restrooms. The survey also asked parents and teachers for their insights on students’ hand washing behaviors in school restrooms. Participants were from around the country, ranged in age from 18 to 65 and older and were fairly evenly split between men (46 percent) and women (54 percent).

Public Restroom Problems Negatively Impact Businesses

The survey also found that 60% of Americans have had an unpleasant experience in a public restroom due to the condition of the facilities. Gas station and public park restrooms were the first and second most commonly mentioned locations for an unpleasant experience. Leaving the facility without completing the intended business is the most commonly mentioned action taken due to a bad experience in a public restroom. Further, one-fourth suggested that they would spread negative word-of-mouth about the business in question.

In addition, parents who needed to help their children in public restrooms were especially frustrated by empty or jammed towel dispensers, having no space to put belongings, water collecting on sink counters, and sinks and soap dispensers that were too high or difficult for children to reach.

“This finding reinforces that attractive, functional and well-maintained public restrooms offer significant benefits,” Dommisse says. “For the facilities manager and the building owner, they encourage repeat users. And for the health of the community and general public, they can foster hand washing and prevent flu and other serious infections.”

For more than 85 years, Bradley Corp. has designed and manufactured commercial washfountains, and today is the industry’s exclusive source for plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, restroom partitions, emergency fixtures and solid plastic lockers. Headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Bradley serves the commercial, industrial, health care, recreation, education, and corrections markets worldwide. For more information, contact Bradley, Telephone: (800) Bradley; Fax: (262) 251-5817; www.bradleycorp.com.