Many people seem to have lost the good hand-hygiene habits they started to learn during the swine flu pandemic.

Researchers observing use of hand sanitiser provided in the foyer of Wellington Hospital found use was at a fairly low rate of 18 per cent at the height of the pandemic last August but fell to 8.2 per cent in December, when the pandemic had long passed.

They note in their online report in the journal EuroSurveillance that there had been little media coverage of the pandemic for some weeks by the time of their post-pandemic day of observation at the hospital. This was in line with the reduction in the rate of influenza infection in the community.

Regular hand-washing or use of sanitiser is a key method promoted by the Ministry of Health for controlling the spread of influenza virus - and many other infectious diseases.

The hand-hygiene researchers, from Otago University at Wellington, consider even 18 per cent of the public and health workers using the provided sanitiser to be "sub-optimal", although they acknowledged that some may have recently sanitised their hands elsewhere. They urged the ministry to beef up its public message on hand hygiene.