Are Public Restrooms Making You Sick?
What You Can Catch, If Anything?
There are a few misconceptions surrounding public restrooms and bacteria. Bacteria thrives in wet, moist environments-making sinks, faucet knobs, and flushers prime for the spread of germs. So, yes, it is very possible to get sick from visiting the restroom at your local fast food joint.
E. coli, the common cold, streptococcus, staphylococcus, and hepatitis A are rampant in public bathrooms, according to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). However, simply using the toilet seat won't transmit disease.
In fact, you're far more likely to get sick from the sink than the toilet seat. There is a greater risk of coming into contact with harmful bacteria when an infected person touches a surface with his hand-such as toilet handles, sink faucets, and door handles.
Should You Worry?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 40 million Americans get sick every year from bacteria that's spread from hand-to-hand. Of those people, 80,000 die from those germs. So the potential threat of spreading sickness or becoming ill does exist.
Staying Germ Free
Follow these steps to greatly reduce your chance of catching a nasty bug from the restroom:
- Wash your hands. While it seems obvious to many, for others it may be a foreign concept. Sure, according to the most recent study by the ASM, hand-washing is on the rise, but still not perfect (77 percent for men, 93 percent for women).
According to the CDC, simply washing your hands with soap and hot water for 30 seconds and drying them with a paper towel can prevent 80 percent of transferrable diseases.
- Close the lid. It may sound disgusting, but it's a fact that when you flush fecal particles are released into the air. Close the lid before you flush to prevent exposure.
- Use your feet. The flusher can be a cesspool when it comes to bacteria. Instead of your hands, gently use your foot for the flushing. This will skirt some germ transfer.
- Time it right. Typically, you wash your hands, shut the faucet and dry your hands. What ends up happening is that once you touch the sink knobs, germs are transferred to clean hands. Wash, dry, and use the paper towel as a barrier between your hand and the faucet when you turn the water off.
- Finally, don't use your hands on the way out. Remember, not everyone is as clean as you are; so when you leave the restroom, be sure not to touch the door handle. Use your elbow, foot, or a paper towel as a barrier when opening the door to exit.
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The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.