Dangerous Germs found in Public Washrooms
If the thought of using a public toilet cubicle in an office, restaurant, cinema, or (God forbid) a petrol station makes you squirm, you’re certainly not alone. The rise of the Internet and the excess information, rumours and gossip has given rise to a generation of ‘germophobes’. When a germophobe dares to use a public toilet, usually out of absolute necessity, they find themselves pushing open the cubicle doors with their elbows, hovering over the toilet seat, and flushing the toilet with their shoes – all to avoid catching any nasty germs.
But despite our over-active imaginations, and the rumours spread by friends who know of people who’ve caught deadly viruses from toilet seats, are there really any dangerous germs that can be caught from using a public toilet?
Healthy Immune System and Personal Hygiene
While there are plenty of germs in a public toilet you should be wary of, if you have a strong immune system and good personal hygiene, your paranoia may be misplaced. After all, most of the bacteria’s lurking in toilets can be knocked out if you only use hygienic handwashing methods and keep your immune system healthy and strong.
Most Germs are Not Found on the Toilet Seat
While toilet seats are what most people fear touching the most in public washrooms, they are actually not the top germ-ridden enemy in a public toilet. In fact, many disease-causing organisms can only survive for a limited amount of time on the surface of a toilet seat. Therefore, for an infection to occur the germs would have to be transmitted from the toilet seat into the genital tract or through a cut on the buttocks or thigh almost immediately after contact with the toilet – and although this is possible, it is highly unlikely.
Taps are Often the Dirtiest Bathroom Objects
Many researchers have found that germ hot-zones in public toilets include sinks and taps. After all, a member of the public emerges from a bathroom stall and turns on the tap with dirty hands. Sinks are breeding grounds for tiny organisms and because they remain damp throughout the day, they accumulate germs unlike anywhere else in the bathroom. So, it’s important that once you’ve thoroughly washed your hands, you must turn off the tap using a clean paper towel to avoid the transferal of germs back onto your hands.
Can You Catch an STI from a Public Toilet?
Let’s discuss the most common rumour about public toilets; that you can catch an STI from sitting on a toilet seat. Sexually transmitted infections are commonly passed through skin-to-skin contact and therefore, viruses like this cannot be contracted by sitting on a toilet seat as they die as soon as they hit cold surfaces. In fact, catching an STI from a public toilet is so unlikely we’re not going to mention it again as there are more dangerous germs lurking in public bathrooms that you should be worried about. What are they, you ask? They’re listed below.
Escherichia Coli (E.Coli)
E.coli is a faecal-borne bacteria that contaminates public restrooms all over the globe. This bacterium is found in our intestines, but if you’re exposed to it – commonly from contaminated water or food, but also from contaminated surfaces as well, it can make you extremely sick with diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. This germ is definitely something to be wary of as contracting it is a pretty unpleasant experience. However, you can lessen your chances of getting it by washing your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
Most commonly contracted by people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, Shigella bacteria is an infection that causes diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, and other abdominal discomfort that may last for about a week. It is contracted similarly to E.coli, when an infected person’s faeces contaminates a bathroom surface. However, while Shigella bacteria is most infectious while you’re sick with diarrhoea and cramping, it remains able to infect others for weeks after you’re feeling better. This is a dangerous virus that can spread from person to person with remarkable ease. The best way to avoid it is to wash your hands thoroughly or use a toilet seat that has been wiped down with a disinfectant wipe to avoid contracting the bacteria.
Streptococcus, also known as the “flesh-eating” bacteria, is found on around 39% of toilet seats. Although this bacterium is most commonly found in your throat, it can also cause severely contagious skin infections, making those who contract it sick. However, the good news is that despite this bacterium making itself at home on public toilet seats, you’re at least 50% more likely to be struck by lightning than contract this flesh-eating bacteria.
There are many viruses that can live for as many as a couple of days on nonporous surfaces, and Influenza is one of them. Found on common items such as your remote control, mobile phone, and (no surprise here) the toilet seat, Influenza is an extremely common washroom virus. The best way to avoid catching influenza when using a public washroom, is to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands. This shouldn’t be something you need reminding of, but always wash your hands after using the bathroom and you could avoid contracting bacteria’s such as influenza.
Commonly known as food poisoning or the stomach virus, Norovirus causes symptoms such as vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhoea. These symptoms can occur as soon as 12 hours after contracting the virus and they can be vicious. The Norovirus is contracted from contaminated surfaces and unwashed hands. However, if bathrooms are regularly, and thoroughly cleaned and proper handwashing procedures are followed, the likelihood of contracting this virus is significantly reduced.
But you can only catch this virus from uncooked or contaminated foods, can’t you? While, yes, that is the most common way you can catch Salmonella, this virus is also caught through cross-contamination. That is, if someone uses the bathroom or touches a contaminated surface and doesn’t wash their hands before preparing food or putting their fingers in their mouth, they could contract Salmonella.
What Precautions Should You Take?
When it comes to using public washrooms and avoiding the germs that reside there, it is important to take the appropriate precautions. While you can’t control how regularly and thoroughly the public toilets you’re using are cleaned, there are steps you can take to avoid contracting any horrible germs.
The most important thing you can do is wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, use paper towels over hand driers (to avoid further germs), and avoid touching any bathroom surfaces. If you want to be extra cautious, once you’ve left the public toilet make use of hand sanitiser to rid your skin of any remaining bacteria.