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Considering the multitude of antibacterial products on the market in the U.S., you might think that Americans are obsessed with disinfecting. But if new research conducted for the Clean Hands Campaign run by the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) is any indication, you would be wrong. Although 95 percent of those surveyed claimed to wash their hands after using a public restroom, only 67 percent actually do so, according to findings presented today at the ASM's Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy meeting.

"While it may seem amusing at first, this is really a very serious issue," ASM secretary Judy Daly observes. "The more people do their part to control the spread of infections, the less we have to use antibiotics, which lose their potency over time as bacteria develop resistance to them."

Despite the campaign's four-year effort, as well as increased media attention to the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, Americans still don't get it. In fact, most are less likely to wash today than they were at the time of the initial survey (see chart). Even more disconcerting, "the situation might be worse than it appears to be because some people may have spotted the observers and worried that 'Mom was watching,'" Daly remarks. "In the absence of other people, the numbers may have even been dramatically less."