The Corner

On a Point of Hygiene

I guess this is sort of a bleg addressed to readers with a medical,

bacteriological, or epidemiological training. This morning’s New York

Post carried an item — it’s on page 3, but I can’t find it in the online

edition — about a survey of people using public rest rooms. Apparently 20

percent of men don’t bother to wash their hands with soap after using the

facilities. Women are more punctilious; only 7.4 percent skip the hand


Now, I have been thinking for years, and occasionally arguing the point with

friends (you know, when the stock of conversational topics gets really

low) that this entire business of washing the hands after number one is

dumb. (Number two I have no argument with.) Under modern standards of

personal hygiene, and especially in a place like New York City, the average

American, at an average moment in an average day, has way more germs on

his hands than he has on any body part that has been safely tucked away

under layers of clothing since the morning shower. The sensible thing,

therefore, would be to wash the hands before touching other body parts.

Am I wrong?

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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