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How Dangerous Are Bacteria In Public Restrooms?

Q: What are the real dangers of public restrooms?

If you spend enough time away from home, eventually human physiology will force you to use a public restroom. And, like any shared space, it’s likely to be full of germs. But what are the public health risks of community toilets?

“There are health risks associated with public toilets,” said Erica Donner, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of South Australia, adding that the severity of the risk depends on many things, including how often they are used. clean and ventilate the bathroom. Donner, co-author of a recent review of research on infectious disease transmission in public restrooms, says you may be able to take simple steps to protect yourself.

Health officials have tracked the spread of illness-causing viruses and bacteria in public restrooms, including norovirus at work and toilets on airplanes and cruise ships. Salmonella bacteria in the bathrooms of the bedrooms. and hepatitis A in elementary school restrooms. As explained in a recent article by Dr. Donner, numerous studies have documented the presence of pathogenic microbes on toilet bowls and other surfaces in public restrooms.

Because feces and urine can also contain many bacteria and viruses, most of these pathogens travel through the toilet bowl to bathroom surfaces, said Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. Studies have shown that toilet flush disperses tiny microbes in a spray column, which can float up to 5 feet in the air and remain suspended for more than an hour before sinking into surrounding surfaces. Dr. Gerba said: ‘All public toilets are contaminated to some degree just by flushing them.

However, sitting on a contaminated toilet seat and transferring some virus or bacteria from the skin of your butt doesn’t necessarily make you sick. Most of these pathogens are not “respiratory diseases,” as Dr. Gerba says.

An exception may be skin infections, especially those caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). These bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics and are difficult to treat. Dr. Gerba said that MRSA has been detected in public restrooms and “can be transmitted from skin to skin.” He said how often this happens isn’t documented, but cleaning public restrooms with disinfectant before use can reduce the risk. (Don’t throw the toilet paper in the toilet, but in the trash.)

He also said that the risk of MRSA infection may be a reason to use a toilet seat cover, if one is available, especially if broken skin could come into contact with the toilet seat.” “. The risk is not limited to toilets, as MRSA has been found on ATM keypads, elevator buttons, cabinet knobs, beach sand, and many other public surfaces, including buses and hotel rooms.

Even a toilet seat cover does not offer complete protection. Dr. Donner said it may have been contaminated by previous toilet stations or cabin occupants and was sometimes unusable. In this case, would it be better to stand on the toilet bowl to avoid direct contact? “If you have strong muscles, you should get high, but only if you have good aim”. “You may accidentally cause confusion and increase the risk to others.”

More important than sitting, moving around or using a blanket, Dr. Donner said, is how well you wash your hands after going to the bathroom. Thanks to the toilet sink effect and the use of portable air dryers, he says, you can spread germs from wet hands or up to 10 feet from open trash cans and all surfaces in public restrooms (sink handles, doorknobs, kiosks, toilets). Faucets, exit doors, for example, can become contaminated. The most common route of infection is the “fecal-oral route”, which occurs when pathogens from the feces of an infected person enter the mouth after they have ”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wetting your hands with clean water and washing them with soap for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing and drying them for effective handwashing. However, most people don’t wash their hands long enough, and public restrooms often lack soap and paper towels. Dr. Gerba said that it’s sometimes difficult to wash properly, like in airplane toilets with small bowls and drops of water, and it’s also difficult to avoid touching the surface afterward. “The best way is to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer when you go out,” he said.

Another tip to keep in mind: If you take a purse or purse into a public restroom, make sure you don’t leave it on the floor, one of the dirtiest surfaces in the bathtub, Dr. Gerba said. Dr. Donner recommends keeping your phone free from contamination and avoiding touching surfaces as much as possible. He may also consider closing the toilet lid before flushing to assess his general health and his kindness to others. This step significantly reduces the toilet cover.

Dr. Park said the only thing he didn’t have to worry about was getting an STD in the bathroom. “I wouldn’t say it’s completely impossible, but it’s highly unlikely,” he said. Pathogens like gonorrhea and chlamydia don’t live long on surfaces and must reach the penis or vagina to cause an infection, he said. “When we sat on the toilet, he was not the good neighbor.”

Alice Callahan is an Oregon-based science and health journalist and frequent contributor to .

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