What if something positive came from the Coronavirus outbreak?

Written by Paul Morris
Founder and CEO, Addmaster (UK) Ltd.

On Saturday, I saw something that I thought I would never see.

I went to watch my football team play, which I do every week as a lifelong fan, and at half time there was a queue at the sinks in the men’s toilet.

Every man was washing their hands and the queue was even longer than for the urinals.

Now, as most men will tell you (ladies, you will have to help me here with your own figures), I would estimate that at best, only around 50% of males wash their hands after going to the toilet and even less at a football match. 

I’ve lost count of the amount times I’ve seen  men walking straight out of a cubicle and out of the door without first visiting the sink. It always leaves me with the dilemma of how to exit the toilet without touching the door handle they have just smeared with unwashed hands!

As someone who is very aware of hygiene, as a founder and CEO of a company providing antimicrobial products, I have always thought this was both disgusting and alarming.

I have been to many conferences where studies are debated about how to persuade people to wash their hands after going to the toilet. The figure for people washing hands in schools and hospitals is as low at 30%.

The only method I saw that had any great impact was in Scandinavian.  In this study,  when washed their hands in a public washroom, if they didn’t do it correctly by using used soap  and for for the right amount of time, a loud alarm would sound and a red light would flash as they exited the toilet.

People were literally embarrassed into personal hygiene. But even this measure only achieved a 95% success rate. Perhaps 5% of us have no shame.

Targeted hygiene

Hand washing of course is a very simple and the single most effective method of reducing cross infection in our daily lives but it’s still obviously a precaution that for one reason or another people chose to ignore - until of course you throw in the fear of a ‘deadly’ virus.

Coronavirus is the game changer. The media frenzy which accompanies every new case has achieved more than any advert, poster, leaflet or video has ever done before to get people to take control of their own ‘targeted hygiene’.

Perhaps now as we get to grips with this outbreak, companies and individuals will think more about the sensible logical things they can do to improve  hygiene and less about ‘the hassle of changing what we have always done’.

An example of this is the UK Supermarkets. They know that Food Standards Agency figures show that up to 5% of all chicken packaging has potentially lethal Campylobacter on the outside of pack, yet they give no warning to the public and make zero effort to rectify the situation by choosing antimicrobial packaging. Their excuse is that  ‘it will cost’ or ‘we will have the change the type of packaging we use’.

Over 400,000 people get sick from Campylobacter each year in the UK alone and someone dies from it every three days. Supermarkets sell out of hand sanitisers, but potentially deadly chicken packaging sits on their shelves ready to infect our families. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?

That’s why I hope that the media exposure Coronavirus is getting helps us focus on our own health and teaches us to see through articles we have seen online or scaremongering newspapers (you know who you are) advising us to not wash our hands because we need more dirt!

Lessons learned

A new pandemic was always likely and there will be more, but there are two things we can learn from this one.

By following the simple ‘targeted hygiene’ tips that have often been ignored we have a far greater chance of avoiding illness ourselves and passing it on to others 

Other pandemics will come and more than likely these new strains will be even more virile and difficult to control than Coronavirus, so we have to take steps now for the future.

So let’s take our own personal hygiene seriously and make improvements where we can make products more hygienic. Lets not be lazy and do what’s right to protect us all.

If we don’t learn from this then,  I guess I will still be the one of the few  men in a football toilet washing their hands again.

*IFH / RSPH study.

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