FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Jun 30 16:42:03 EDT 2010

Real world proof of hand washings effectiveness

Scientists are reporting dramatic new real-world evidence supporting the idea that hand washing can prevent the spread of water-borne disease. It appears in a new study showing a connection between fecal bacteria contamination on hands, fecal contamination of stored drinking water, and health in households in a developing country in Africa. The study is in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal: “Hands, Water, and Health: Fecal Contamination in Tanzanian Communities with Improved, Non-Networked Water Supplies.”

Alexandria Boehm, Jenna Davis, and their students note that almost half of the world’s population — over 3 billion people — have no access to municipal drinking water supply systems. They obtain drinking water wells, springs, and other sources, and store it in jugs and other containers in their homes. Past research showed that this stored water can have higher levels of bacterial contamination than its source. But nobody knew why.

The scientists found a strong link between fecal contamination on the hands of household residents and bacterial contamination in stored water in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Stored water contained nearly 100 times more fecal bacteria than the source where it was collected. “The results suggest that reducing fecal contamination on hands should be investigated as a strategy for improving stored drinking water quality and health among households using non-networked water supplies,” the report notes.


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Science Inquiries: Michael Woods, Editor, 202-872-6293
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Hand-washing, long recognized as an
effective germ-fighting practice, also
appears to play an important role in
improving the quality of stored drinking
water in poor countries.
Credit: iStock
(High-resolution version)