Objectives: This study was conducted to evaluate the public's awareness of the importance of hand washing and to compare perceptions on the habit of hand washing with actual hand washing behavior.
Methods: Data were collected by observing 2,800 participants washing their hands after using public restrooms in seven cities nationwide and by surveying 1,000 respondents (age>14 years) through telephone interviews using a structured questionnaire.
Results: Although 94% of the survey respondents claimed to mostly or always wash their hands after using public restrooms, only 63.4% of the observed participants did wash their hands after using public restrooms. Significant factors related to increased adherence to hand washing were female gender, approximate ages of 20 to 39 years by their appearance, and the presence of other people from the observation. About 79% of the survey respondents always washed their hands after using bathrooms at home, 73% washed their hands before handling food, and 67% washed their hands upon returning to their home. However, 93.2% and 86.3% of the survey respondents did not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing and after handling money, respectively. Although most of the survey respondents (77.6%) were aware that hand washing is helpful in preventing communicable diseases, 39.6% of the survey respondents did not do so because they were 'not accustomed' to washing their hands and 30.2% thought that washing their hands is 'annoying'.
Conclusions: This is the first comprehensive report on hand washing behavior and awareness of the general population in Korea. The result of this study in terms of individual behavior and awareness of hand washing are comparable with similar studies conducted in other countries. However adherence to hand washing is still low and needs to be increased. The results of this study can be used as a baseline in setting up strategies and activities to promote adherence to hand washing.