FRIDAY, Sept. 21, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Americans aren't washing their hands like they used to.
That's the conclusion of a new observational study that found fewer users of public restrooms stopping by the sink on their way out, compared to years past.
The study was released to coincide with National Clean Hands Week by the American Society for Microbiology and The Soap and Detergent Association.
For the study, researchers observed the behavior of almost 6,100 adults at six locations in four cities -- Atlanta, Chicago. New York and San Francisco.
They found that 77 percent of people washed their hands in public restrooms, a 6 percent decline from the 83 percent noted in 2005.
This latest study found that women were still more likely (88 percent) to wash their hands than men (66 percent). In 2005, 90 percent of women and 75 percent of men washed their hands.
In both the 2005 and 2007 studies, researchers observed the hand washing behavior of people at: Turner Field in Atlanta; the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; Grand Central Station and Penn Station in New York City; and the Ferry Terminal Farmers Market in San Francisco.
In 2007, Chicago had the most conscientious hand washers (81 percent), followed by New York City (79 percent), Atlanta (75 percent) and San Francisco (73 percent).
"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the single most important thing we can all do to keep from getting infectious diseases and spreading them to others is to clean our hands," ASM spokesperson Dr. Judy Daly, director of the microbiology laboratories at the Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, said in a prepared statement.
"Many cases of colds, flu and foodborne illness are spread by unclean hands, and these diseases are responsible for billions of dollars each year in health-care expenditures and productivity losses in the United States," Daly noted. "Worldwide, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of illness and death."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about stopping the spread of germs.