Hygiene in the home: relating bugs and behaviour
Social Science and Medicine, 2003; 57(4):657-72
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Much infectious intestinal disease (IID) arises in the home environment. If programmes to prevent infection are to be effective it is essential to both identify the particular practices that risk disease transmission, and to understand the reasons for these practices. An in-depth, multidisciplinary study of carer and child hygiene in the domestic environment in the Wirral, UK, employed structured observation, surface swabbing for polio vaccine virus and enteric marker organisms, semi-structured interviews, projective interviews and focus group discussions. Observations revealed that child carers washed hands with soap after changing a dirty nappy on 42% of occasions, and that one in five toilet users did not wash hands with soap afterwards. Microbiological samples were taken from household surfaces at sites thought likely to be involved in the transfer of faecal material. 15% of bathroom samples showed contamination with polio vaccine virus. Nappy changing took place mainly in living rooms. Contact with living room surfaces and objects during nappy changing was frequent and evidence of faecal contamination was found in 12% of living room samples. Evidence of faecal contamination was also found in kitchens, again on surfaces thought likely to be involved in the transmission of faeces (taps and soap dispensers). Key factors motivating hygiene were the desire to give a good impression to others, protection of the child and aesthetics. In this setting, the particular risk practices to be addressed included washing hands with soap after stool and nappy contact and preventing the transfer of pathogenic organisms to the kitchen. The occasion of the birth of a child may be a privileged moment for the promotion of safer home hygiene practices. Using polio vaccine virus as an indicator of faecal contamination produces results that could be used in large-scale studies of household disease transmission. A better understanding of the household transmission of the agents of IID using multidisciplinary methods is needed if effective hygiene promotion programmes are to be designed.
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