Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I've been reading your column for years, and must say I enjoy them. In the past, you have written about people using the bathroom and not washing their hands. Some people I have seen will rinse their hands, but don't use any soap. Don't they know that water alone won't kill germs?

People should teach their children to wash their hands with soap. You don't have to have a college degree to know how to be careful. Won't you please print that item again, Abby? Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. -- SOUTH CAROLINA NATIVE

DEAR SOUTH CAROLINA: Here it is:

DEAR ABBY: People come to you with every conceivable problem, so I'm encouraged to present one that's so touchy I've never seen it mentioned in your column.

How do you get people to wash their hands after using the bathroom? In our home, the bathroom is right off the kitchen, and when the water is turned on, it can be heard in the next room. Guests have gone into our bathroom, used the toilet (I can hear the toilet being flushed), and then come out without having turned on the faucet, so I know they haven't washed their hands. Then after supper, they offer to help me dry the dishes! (I always say, "No, thank you!"). There's no telling what kind of infection could be transferred to my dishes from those unwashed hands.

Worse yet, where I work there's a cafeteria, and I've seen some cafeteria employees walk out of a bathroom stall and go straight out to serve the people without having washed their hands. Some of them even wipe and dry the dishes as they come out of the dishwasher. Can you imagine the disease risks a diner faces when he uses these "freshly washed" dishes?

Abby, please explain how dangerous this is. If you print this, I promise to frame it and hang it above our toilet. -- PLEASE WASH IN WINONA, MINN.

DEAR PLEASE: I cannot stress too emphatically how important this one specific area of hygiene is to good general health. Children should be taught to wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom and adults should have made it a lifelong habit.

The Mayo Clinic, the medical mecca of the world, has sponsored "Infection Awareness Week" programs. As part of its campaign, prominently displayed along the corridors of the Mayo hospital complex were posters showing a pair of hands under this terse message: "The 10 Most Common Causes of Infection."

To remind doctors, nurses and employees of the Mayo Clinic to wash their hands frequently were other posters bearing this catchy message: "A milligram of hand washing is worth a kilogram of antibiotics."

One final no-no on this subject: One must never use a napkin from the table as a handkerchief and then carelessly allow it to be mixed with other napkins on the table. Quite often a careless waiter or bus person will use soiled napkins to wipe off the table. This is almost as unforgivable as the aforementioned dirty toilet habits. The solution is to use a napkin as a napkin and a handkerchief as a handkerchief, and be certain that each is deposited in its proper place after it is used.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600