People are fast to (rightfully) blame globalization for the increasingly rapid spread of diseases such as SARS, but no one assigns the proper share of guilt to the hand dryer.

So it’s also likely, knowing the hand dryer will be ineffectual and frustrating, there will be no hand washing at all — no hot water, soap or eradication of disease. That’s how it is in a first-world country where hassle often outweighs high risk. (Alternate example: the condom.)

The simple act of washing your hands means you’re 24 percent less likely to get a respiratory illness such as a cold or bacterial pneumonia, according to the World Health Organization, and half as likely to catch intestinal viruses.

Not washing suggests we’re not even close to being done with SARS, West Nile Virus, AIDS, avian flu or a host of other diseases, but those deficient, feeble hand dryers aren’t going to go away.

They’d better work better, then.

Somewhere out there is the Xlerator hand dryer, which has all sorts of corrective boasts to the lousy reputation of its predecessors: that it uses 80 percent less energy than the most common models, represents 95 percent cost savings versus paper towels and dries hands completely in 10 to 15 seconds, compared with the usual 22 to 40 seconds of fruitless exertion. (On the Web site, the word “completely” is underlined and italicized. Clearly, Excel Dryer is aware of what the Xlerator must overcome.) But where are these paragons? I’ve never turned from a sink to find one.

And the Xlerator is already overmatched.

The Dyson Airblade also claims to use 80 percent less energy, but promises dry hands in a solid 12 seconds.

The Mitsubishi Jet Towel, ubiquitous in Japan, boasts of a drying time of a mere 5 to 6 seconds.

That’s good.

Because the world is newly crawling with all sorts of microscopic beasties against which we have no natural defense, and we can’t stop them.

Not if we have to waste the better part of a minute only to leave a restroom using our pants as a towel. When it’s vanity versus viruses here, vanity will win in the short term.

It’s not the cure-all we’ve unknowingly been seeking, though.

The Jet Towel came to the United States in 2005, but its market share is still “very small,” according to Asher Bailey, of the Seattle-based reseller Pacarc LLC. So small, in fact, there isn’t a single one in Connecticut.

(And “the differences in drying time are negligible,” Bailey admits, with the Jet Towel and Airblade really drying to U.S. standards at 8 to 10 seconds. The differences in the two really have to do with quality and the life of the product, he says.)

Industry estimates have the old, inefficient hand dryer models on the road to extinction in five years, largely replaced by Xlerator-type dryers in public places. Higher-end models such as the Jet Towel would go in private offices or upscale settings where the roar of an Xlerator would be unwelcome.

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