Medical Videos Physician Articles New Technology Before & After Galleries Find A Doctor Patient Education


Sterilizing America: The War on Germs

From Toothbrush Sanitizers to Portable Bathroom Door Handles, an Endless Stream of Anti-Microbial Consumer Products


Sept. 27, 2005 — If you're among the nine percent of Americans who now freely admit they don't wash after using the toilet, you should be thoroughly congratulated on your candor, so long as you're not expecting a handshake. Now, where's the antibacterial soap?

Last week came word that scientists have been staking out public restrooms across the country, documenting the potty habits of 7,836 adult Americans, and while 91 percent of our countrymen say they always wash their hands, only 83 percent actually did so.

As if the gender divide wasn't deep enough, the survey, conducted by the American Society of Microbiologists, shows that 90 percent of women washed after using the restroom, compared to just 75 percent of men. The worst offenders, they say, were found at an Atlanta Braves baseball game.

The study may show that many of us need to go back to kindergarten. But it's otherwise apparent in the age of SARS, E. coli and pandemic flu, that a growing segment of America is more hygiene-obsessed than ever – and spending a fortune on a wide range of germ-zapping products, from HEPA air purifiers to toothbrush sanitizers. Last year alone, Americans spent $135 million on antibacterial soap.

If you're not satisfied with bottled water and water filters, consumers can now own their own Water Treatment System — a $150 devise from Tersano — that allows you to kill the bacteria and toxins that may reside in whatever it is that's coming out of your tap.

Washing your hands thoroughly is still the single best way to fight the spread of infectious disease, experts say. But if you're still interested in bacteria-busting, here are some new products that are being marketed to help you avoid contact with microbes and clean up your life.

1. Surgical Wrap Public Phone Guards
Remember the good old days when dirty talk involved sex instead of the residue of mucus and saliva on public phones?

Fear of dirty handsets has given rise to SaniPhone covers – made from the same material as surgical masks – that slip over a phone and allow you to make a call with no direct mouth-to-receiver contact. These gauzy guards – sold in $3.95 five-packs – are especially handy in hospitals and other places where cell phones are banned.

You can stretch the elastic SaniPhone covers over your hands to avoid touching unsavory gas pumps and ATMs. Though the manufacturer does not suggest as much, SaniPhone might also be useful with blind dates who insist on a goodnight kiss.