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RSPH calls for clean-up of public attitudes to hygiene - reaction comment

LSHTM expert advisor on new report

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has published a new report, Too Clean or Not Too Clean?, calling for an end to the myth that some people are being too hygienic for their own good.

The report follows a national survey looking at public understanding and practice of hygiene, revealing that while the broad value of hygiene is understood, there are key misconceptions and gaps in understanding that could be increasing the risk of spread of infections.

Key findings from the report include that over one third of the public believe that dirt is usually or always harmful, and men are more than twice as likely as women to think there is low or no risk associated with not washing hands with soap after using the toilet.

Responding to the findings, LSHTM Honorary Professor Sally Bloomfield, Chairman of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene and advisor on the report, said: “Government health agencies also agree that practising good hygiene is vital for safeguarding health and reducing antibiotic prescribing. The 2019 UK Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan says ‘Health providers can only do so much; when it comes to preventing infections in the community, the public have a huge part to play'.

“The problem is that we have become confused about what hygiene is, and how it differs from cleanliness. Whereas cleaning means removing dirt and microbes, hygiene means cleaning in the places and times that matter – in the right way – to break the chain of infection whilst preparing food, using the toilet, caring for pets etc.

“Growing awareness that exposure to “good” microbes in order to build a healthy microbiome is essential for health means we need to view our microbial world differently and adopt appropriate lifestyles. Targeted hygiene offers a lifestyle which maximises protection at times when we risk exposure to harmful microbes, but at the same time maximizes ongoing interaction with microbial friends from human, animal and natural environments.”