An observational study of hand washing last year found that the campaign to get people to wash their hands after using public bathrooms is making progress.

The study by the American Cleaning Institute and the American Society for Microbiology found that 85 percent of adults washed their hands in public restrooms in 2010 — the highest total since the survey was begun in 1996. The previous survey, in 2007, found that 77 percent of the people washed their hands in public restrooms.

People know they are supposed to wash their hands, but their actions don't always match their words. In a separate poll, 96 percent of adults asserted that they always wash their hands in public restrooms.

Researchers observed 6,028 adults in public restrooms in four large cities in August 2010 to see who washed their hands. Women were more likely to wash their hands — 93 percent compared with 77 percent.

The organizations attributed the increase in hand washing to increased public awareness of the health risks associated with poor hand hygiene and the greater focus the news media has given to the importance of hand washing.

Because of concerns over flu viruses and other illnesses, healthy schools have been urged to place greater emphasis on creating good hand-hygiene habits and the importance of washing hands frequently, especially after using a restroom.

It's a SNAP (School Network for Absenteeism Prevention), formed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cleaning Institute, has a goal of making hand washing an integral part of the day in healthy schools.

According to the CDC's 2010 Summary Health Statistics for U.S. children, more than 70 percent of students missed at least one day of school because of illness or injury, and more than 17 percent of students missed more than six days. Studies cited by the CDC indicate that scheduled hand washing and use of hand sanitizers in a classroom can reduce the incidence of student illness.