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EXPERTS CORNER

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Britons at risk from ‘hazardous hobbies’

Forget extreme sports like sky-diving and pot-holing. Britons are turning innocent pastimes like rustling up a roast and computer gaming into hazardous hobbies due to an increased ignorance about hand cleanliness, that’s according to a scientific report released today.

Britons at risk from ‘hazardous hobbies’

“Pooper-scooping, changing litter trays and  stroking your pet can result in nasty parasites and bacteria being picked up...”

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The research, compiled by Dr Lisa Ackerley, Visiting Professor of Environmental Health at Salford University, on behalf of hand hygiene brand Cuticura reveals the hidden dangers lurking in the nation’s favourite activities.

According to Dr Ackerley, the top ten British hobbies that need to carry a health warning are:

1. Rustling up a roast

Little do they know it, but budding chefs are cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Cooking at home has risen in popularity with three quarters of Brits cooking from scratch daily (1). But these culinary wannabes are at risk from the Campylobacter bacteria which can be caught from raw chicken on unwashed hands, chopping boards and knives and causes 300,000 cases of food borne illnesses each year (2)!

2. Green-fingered gardening

The UK’s 20 million green-fingered gardeners (3) could be left ‘germ-fingered’ if hit by the toxocarosis parasite which is transmitted from animals into the soil. In severe cases, infection may lead to eye problems, lung, liver, heart or even brain lesions(4).

3. Shopping with the girls

1 in 6 women are shopaholics and count shopping as a favourite pastime (5). But while a spot of retail therapy with girlfriends may seem innocent, superbugs such as MRSA and viruses can lurk on everything from changing room door handles to chip and pin devices (6).

4. Dinner and drinks

23 million people each year in the UK go for drinks and dinner with friends at least once a week (7), but these sociable occasions could be a germ minefield! On nights out, germ-ridden hands come into contact with everything from contaminated peanuts on the bar, to shared garlic bread and poppadoms. Even shaking hands could lead to transmission of germs from one person to the next. And imagine if someone has a food allergy – transfer of peanut protein from one person’s hand to another could be fatal.

5. Looking after Fido

47% of Brits owns a pet (8). But, while pets may be a man’s best friend, experts say they are your hand’s worst enemy. Pooper-scooping, changing litter trays and even stroking your pet can result in nasty parasites and bacteria being picked up, leading to illnesses such as diarrhoea (9).

6. Computer gaming

Have you ever thought about the germs on games consoles and arcade machines? 38% of Brits are regular gamers (10), but while they’re clocking up the points they might also be clocking up germs like Staphylococcus aureus and viruses that can cause symptoms like skin infections, diarrhoea and sickness11. People snacking whilst gaming can transfer bacteria straight from their hands into their mouths.

7. Raving at a festival

Glamping and festival-going has seen a rise in the number of people sleeping (and partying!) in the great outdoors – 140,000 attended Glastonbury alone this year (12). But, unwitting campers are in danger of picking up E-coli from fields where livestock may have grazed. E-coli can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and, in severe cases, death (13).

8. Pumping iron

7.4 million of us have a gym membership (14) but know little about the hazards to our health that lurk on the machines and in changing rooms. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and viruses may be left on equipment handles and can lead to illnesses such as skin infections and even flu (15).

9. Scoring a strike

It’s not just the ball that could be a hazard when out ten-pin bowling. Germs like Salmonella and Escherichia coli can linger in the finger holes and breed on finger tips and under finger nails – the biggest bacteria carriers on your hands (16)! If the previous bowler didn’t wash their hands after using the loo – then who knows what may be in the finger holes!

10. Do-si-do-ing

Experts even say that as gleeful as country dancing appears, there is a hidden, dangerous side to it. Moist hands are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria such as Shigella that can cause gastroenteritis. Think about that next time your do-si-do-ing with your partner at a Barn Dance!

Dr Lisa Ackerley said: “People should think of their hands as germ motorway. I would never want people to become obsessive about hygiene, but I know that understanding the facts helps tremendously in prevention of disease. The simple solution to prevent all of these hobbies being dangerous and a risk to your health is effective hand hygiene. People should think about using a hand gel and should make sure they wash their hands thoroughly whenever they may be dirty and always before preparing or consuming food. Your life may be in your hands – literally!”

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[1] Future Labs Food Trends Dec 2009

[2] http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/foodchainhazardsimpacts

[3] http://www.hpa.org.uk/NewsCentre/NationalPressReleases/2009PressReleases/090912EcoliOutbreakSurreyFarm/

[4] According to Dr Lisa Ackerley

[5] Research by uswitch.com

[6] The Society For Applied Microbiology – 2009

[7] www.nationaleatingoutweek.com

[8] www.pfma.org.uk – Pet population figures 2010

[9] According to Dr Lisa Ackerley

[10] http://www.askaboutgames.com/

[11] According to Dr Lisa Ackerley

[12] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10387611

[13] Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis (1999) 18:286-288

[14] FIA State of the Industry report 2010

[15] According to Dr Lisa Ackerley

[16] Research carried out by Aston University on behalf of Cuticura, March 2010

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