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Germs and other nasties await if you don't employ common sense while using public bathrooms

Under the headline "From Slaughterhouse to Hospitals, Scanners to Expose Fecal Germs," the morning paper recently printed an Associated Press story assuring Tucson readers that technology was coming to the rescue in the war on poop pathogens. This is no laughing matter, particularly in light of the article's accompanying statistics that indicate a frightful percentage of health care workers who don't comply with "hand washing policies."

You would think that doctors and nurses and all those folks who in some way are connected to your well-being and continued existence on this planet would have the cleanest hands around. Alas, you would be wrong.

You would also be wrong if you labored under the naïve belief that restaurant workers' hands were clean enough to prepare the food you're about to ingest. In fact, the truth is, people simply don't wash their hands often enough, and even when they do, they often do a lousy job of it.

The other day, I was in the public bathroom of an organization where, one might think, everyone who passed through its doors was taught hygiene at an early age. This assumption was dashed when I witnessed a young woman hurriedly leave the lavatory without even a glance at the wash basins.

That night, I asked my husband how many men he would estimate exit a public toilet without washing their hands. Would you believe 50 percent? What's up with that? Do they think it's unmanly to stand at a sink, use some soap, and get their damn hands clean?

Then there was the person--who shall forever remain nameless--who assured me that not washing was the hygienic thing to do in public bathrooms, because the large number of people touching faucets, soap, towel dispensers and all the other surfaces that make up a loo actually increases the chances of one picking up some nasty germ. The prudent thing to do, according to this person, was run in, do your business and dash out as quickly as possible. I was shocked into numb silence.

Whether or not you subscribe to the old adage, "cleanliness is next to godliness," you can rest assured filthiness is a colossal turnoff. With the exception of a few people whose predilections are on the extreme end of the kinky scale, how many women (or men, for that matter) want to cuddle up with someone who wipes their ass, neglects to wash, then jumps into bed? And consider this: How many people just assume their partners are smart enough to wash after using the john?

"Say, Sally, I just heard the toilet flush. Did you wash your hands?" This is simply not the kind of question you ask on a first date, nor even after years of partnership. (Especially if your partner's name isn't Sally.)

So, in the interest of promoting a cleaner, safer Tucson, reducing the incidence of urinary tract infections and mysterious maladies picked up in public bathrooms everywhere, and in case your mother failed to impart this information (surely grounds for a charge of child neglect), the following mini-guide on "how to maneuver in a public bathroom" provides enough tricks to get you in and out with a minimal amount of risk.

It should go without saying that you don't sit on a public toilet seat without some paper between you and it. Yes, Virginia, you can contract some nasty diseases, and wiping the seat off doesn't cut it. There's a host of bacteria out there, and you don't want to invite some home with you. Men aren't exempt from this admonition. Just because you don't have a vagina doesn't mean you're protected from picking up something foul and later sharing it with your mate.

Time to flush? Use your foot. Not overly familiar with men's urinals, so you guys are on your own here--just use your imagination (not to flush, but to figure out some way to do so without using your hand, if possible).

On to hand washing: Turn on the hot water (if you're lucky, there'll be some). Put some soap on your hands and scrub. Make sure to clean around your fingernails and between your fingers. Twenty seconds is commonly advised. Just before you turn off the faucet, cup some water in your hands and toss it over the faucet handle so the next person finds it free of soap scum. (I learned this trick from a Chinese friend of mine.)

Turn off the faucet with the outside of your wrist. You'll also use your wrist on the paper dispenser's knob if you can't simply peel off a sheet. And don't toss the used towel in the trash. You're going to use it on the door handle on the way out so you don't undo all the cleaning you just did by touching a doorknob used by scores of people who failed to wash their hands. (If you're in a bathroom with one of those doors that push out, you're home free.)

By following these suggestions, you won't have to wait for scanners in public bathrooms to make sure your hands are clean enough for lunch.

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