Eyes and citrus are the key to good hygiene

January 5th, 2016 Category: Local Authority & Housing

Eyes and citrus fruits could be the key to cutting bacterial hospital infections, a new report has suggested.

A joint report published by Professor Ivo Vlaev, of Warwick Business School, Dominic King and Ara Darzi, of Imperial College London, Maureen Fitzpatrick, Ruth Everett-Thomas and David Birnbach, of the University of Miami examined behavioural patterns to ascertain the things that were most likely to combat infections at one hospital.

It found that effective hand hygiene is the single most important procedure in preventing hospital acquired infections. Such infections can potentially be quite fatal and cause illnesses in vulnerable patients and increase costs for the healthcare system.

However, the study revealed that a picture of a man’s intense staring eyes and a clean citrusy smell have been found to substantially improve hand-washing and reduce the possibility of this.

When faced with a picture of the eyes, a third more people wash their hands, while a citrus smell boosted hand-washing by almost 50 per cent.

The research was published in the paper ‘Priming’ Hand Hygiene Compliance in Clinical Environments.

Professor Vlaev said: “Appropriate hand hygiene is considered to be essential practice in clinical environments to prevent healthcare-associated infections.

“Yet low rates of hand-washing are widely reported and this was reconfirmed in this study, where only 15 per cent of staff and visitors to an intensive care unit were observed to use the hand-washing station.”

The study also suggested that a picture of a man’s eyes may exert more influence over behaviour than a picture of a woman’s eyes.

Men tended to comply with hand hygiene far less than their female counterparts, with 21 women influenced by the male or female eyes and just one man motivated by the female eyes to wash his hands.

Mr Vlaev added: “This may be because male eyes cue different feelings, thoughts, or emotions than female eyes.

“In many previous studies examining gender differences in exerting social influence more generally, men have been found to exert more influence than women and this may explain the differences seen.

“However, it is important to clarify the male eyes showed used more facial musculature, often perceived as anger or threat, so this could have influenced the observed individuals.”

As part of the study, a trial was set up in a surgical intensive care unit at a teaching hospital in Miami, Florida.

Some 404 healthcare workers and visitors were observed to see if they washed their hands by using the hand sanitizer next to the door before entering a patient’s room.

Worryingly, just 18 out of 120 visitors in the control group washed their hands, which is equal to 15 per cent. Men were less likely to wash their hands, with just five out of 54 (9.26 per cent) washing their hands, compared to 13 out of 66 women who washed their hands (19.70 per cent).

However, this all changed when visitors were exposed to a pair of staring eyes. Some 124 people were shown these visual cues and it was found that when a photograph of male eyes was displayed to respondents, there was a statistically significant increase in handwashing of 33.3 per cent.

On the other hand, when the photograph was of female eyes was displayed, (ten per cent) washed their hands.

Bacteria in the home

Bacteria in the home continues to be a major problem for many unsuspecting Brits.

A report published by Turtle Mat found that homeowners who allow guests to wear shoes on their roperty could potentially be putting themselves at risk.

Some 1500 providers were contacted for the survey which found that residents in Plymouth, Glasgow and Belfast were the least likely to ask guests to take their shoes off in their homes.

Men were also more likely to retain their footwear in the house than women, 13 per cent of males versus eight per cent of females stated that they always keep their shoes on. 

Despite this, men were more likely to ask guests to take their shoes off compared to women, with 22 per cent stating they had done this, compared to 17 per cent of females.

Speaking about the findings, Chris Griffiths from US-based business, HealthySole, said: "Virtually all types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi can be found on the soles of shoes, and these organisms survive well on shoe soles because we continuously step in damp and dirty environments.

“Studies show that nine out of ten pairs of shoes carry Coliform, an organism that originates from faecal matter. It has also been proven that C-Difficile (deadly diarrhoea) which infects half a million people a year, is found on 39 per cent of shoe soles."