How bad are public restrooms? Are public toilet seats as germ-filled as we’ve been led to believe?

Source: Science Insider/Youtube

Erica Donner, a professor of environmental science at the University of South Australia, spoke to The New York Times about the health risks associated with public bathrooms. Dr. Donner is the co-author of a recent review of studies on infectious disease transmission in public restrooms.

Some disease-causing viruses and bacteria can be traced back to public restrooms like norovirus in the workplace, airplane and cruise ship bathrooms, salmonella in dorm toilets, and hepatitis A in elementary bathrooms.

Research has also found the presence of pathogenic microbes on toilets and other surfaces in these public restrooms. These pathogens can get into the bathroom surfaces via the toilet bowl. This is because feces and urine can contain many bacteria and viruses. Flushing a toilet without a lid can disperse tiny microbes five feet into the air and remain suspended for an hour or more before landing on the ground.

It’s important to note that simply sitting on a contaminated toilet seat won’t necessarily make you sick. Some bacteria, however, have been found on toilet seats, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which causes skin infection and can be treated with antibiotics. However, the risk is still extremely low, and it is found on other public surfaces like ATMs and door handles.

Fortunately, it is fairly straightforward how to make your trip to the bathroom that much safer. To minimize your risk, you can wipe down the toilet seat with a disinfecting wipe before. Dr. Donner says that the best thing you can do is to clean your hands well after using the bathroom. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying them. We’ve all been there when a bathroom is out of soap or paper towels. It’s a good idea to always carry hand sanitizer with you. Finally, if the toilet has a lid, always close this before flushing.

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