What’s The Health Risk In The Public Restroom?

by Dr. Jonathan D'Souza

It’s happened to all of us: you’re out and about and you have to go, you look around and there are no other options besides a public restroom. So you take a deep breath and head in only to see the toilet seat covered with someone else’s pee? Ewww..gross!

With so many germs doing the rounds, one is right to be concerned about contracting infections from a public restroom. But what’s the actual risk and what can you do to protect yourself and your family from possible infections?

What’s the worst that can happen?
Urine usually does not contain harmful microbes. However, coming in contact with bathroom surfaces that have been touched by a sick person’s hands could lead to you picking up a cold, cough, stomach flu, staph or strep infection. You can reduce the risk of contracting illnesses by properly washing your hands with soap and water after using the public restroom.

Can I catch something from the toilet seat?

The toilet seat is not a common place for the transmission of diseases to humans. This is because most disease-causing organisms survive for a short time on the surface of the seat. While there are always a few bacteria around, your skin is an amazing organ acting as an excellent barrier for keeping unwanted pathogenic microorganisms out. An infection may only occur if there is a cut or sore on the thighs or buttocks allowing the germs to be transferred from the toilet seat to your urethra or genital tract. But your risk of this are low and some common sense, and precautions should keep you safe.

How To Reduce The Slightest Chance Of An Infection

  • The first rule of thumb is the sight test. If the toilet looks clean, it probably is.
  • While avoiding germs are inevitable, if you’re really concerned, don’t waste toilet paper. It is better to hover over the toilet to avoid contact with microbes rather than try to create a toilet-paper shield.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Use a hand sanitizer if water and soap aren’t available. Flushing the toilet creates aerosolized bacteria. This could lightly contaminate the toilet paper. The risk of infection is more likely to come from improper handwashing, followed by touching the eyes or mouth. A 2010 observational study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute® found that of the 95 percent of men and women who claim that they wash after using a public toilet, only 67 percent actually do.
  • Remember to drop the lid before you use the flush. Flushing the toilet with the lid open sprays bacteria into the air that can cause disease. A study found that keeping the lid closed reduced the spread of bacteria by 10 times.

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