Survey: Americans’ hand-washing habits haven’t changed

NEW YORK Fearless prediction No. 1: You can bet a case of hand sanitizer that if and when this survey is conducted in late October, as opposed to late July, there’ll be a whole lot more people not only aware of the importance of hand-washing and sanitizers, but they’ll likely be rubbing their hands raw with the amount of hand washing that’ll be going on.


Here’s why: The course of H1N1 was first picked up late last season — by both government officials as well as the consumer media. As spring days heated up into summer, H1N1 still drove higher-than-usual rates of influenza illnesses. It’s the media that pushed this story a few pages back from its headliner position in April.


It was only a week or so ago that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that both Alaska and Maine were experiencing “widespread” incidence of influenza-like illnesses, primarily H1N1. Depending upon where you draw the line, that’s either the earliest in a influenza season that a pair of states reported widespread ILI, or the latest holdover of illness from the season prior.

So as the United States comes into its traditional influenza season — where the question many consumers will be asking is, “Is it H1N1 flu, seasonal flu or just a bad head cold?” — that story will once again become front page, above-the-fold material.

Which brings about fearless prediction No. 2: It’s going to be a doozy of a season this year. Here’s why: While the mortality rate associated with H1N1 thus far has not exceeded that of seasonal flu, it’s going to impact a whole other demographic. In normal seasons, it’s parents of infants, people with compromising respiratory conditions and seniors that need to worry most about getting the flu. With H1N1, it’s just about everybody else. To date, 75% of H1N1 hospitalizations and 60% of deaths have happened in people younger than 50, the CDC has reported, noting that pregnant women and people between the ages of 6 months and 24 are at greatest risk.

And that makes this year a simple game of numbers. If you significantly broaden the population at risk for becoming ill with H1N1, then you’re going to have a lot more ill people than usual.

Unless, of course, more of them start washing their hands.

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