June 8, 2009 We all know that coughs and sneezes spread diseases – and that we should wash our hands to prevent passing on nasty viruses and bacteria. But how many of us just flick our hands under a dribbling tap and think that will do? Now hopeless hand washers will be caught – not red-handed, but with glowing green fingers, by the Society for General Microbiology’s (SGM) good hand washing test.
A team from the SGM will be at the Cheltenham Science Festival demonstrating their hand washing training kit that uses a cream containing a harmless dye that glows green in ultraviolet light to show up shoddy hand washing.
“Under finger nails and the cracks between fingers are the usual sites which get missed, said SGM’s Dariel Burdass, “We put a blob of cream on people’s hands and send them away to wash them. When they come back they are often amazed at how much glowing green dye remains on their fingers – if the dye was a nasty microbe they would be standing a good chance of infecting themselves and passing it on to other people.
The team also use the glowing cream to show how viruses such as those that cause colds and flu can survive on hard surfaces and be spread from hand to hand. Just touching a doorknob that has had a little of the special cream applied to it, can make people’s fingers turn green under UV light – and then when they touch another person’s hand the green glow gets passed on.
“Although this is great fun for children as it has a real “yuk” factor,” Dariel continued, “It has a serious side too. The current TV adverts about swine flu stress that we should use a tissue when we sneeze to stop virus-laden droplets spreading over a wide area. Our hand washing test shows very clearly how viruses can spread from hand to hand and by touching contaminated surfaces”.
The message seems to be hitting home. One participant remarked, “I hadn’t realised the huge difference that washing my hands could make to the spread of colds. Next time I sneeze I won’t be wiping my hands down my jumper!”
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