Healthy Living

Bathroom Paranoia: How to Avoid Common Viruses in Public Restrooms

Public restroom stalls
Image REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Have you ever considered the amount of bacteria crawling around a public restroom? Millions of people use public restrooms a day. Many unaware of all the germs crawling around that can give you acute to severe viruses. With flu season swiftly approaching, we should all be aware of the common viruses living in public restrooms.

A public restroom is filled with armies of familiar and unfamiliar suspects such as streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli and hepatitis A. The bathroom can also be home to the common cold virus.

Streptococcus is a bacterium found in the throat and the skin. This particular bacteria can give you acute illnesses such as strep throat or skin infection such as impetigo. Severe illnesses you may develop from streptococcal infections are necrotizing faciitis or streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Like streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus is another bacterium found on the skin. However, this particular bacterium has the ability to create seven different toxins that are responsible for food poisoning.

E. coli normally lives in the intestines of healthy people. Though many of the variants of E. coli are harmless, there are a few strains that can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. It can easily be passed on from person-to-person. Also, E. coli can live on surfaces at room temperature and normal humidity.

Hepatitis A is a virus found mostly in the stools and blood of an infected person. There is no treatment for this particular virus.

The hot zones for these viruses include: sinks, faucet handles, towel dispensers and bathroom door handles. If an infected individual emerges from the bathroom stall and touches the sink or faucet handle, it may be easily contaminated with any one of these viruses. According to researchers from University of Arizona in Tucson, sinks harbor the most germs because of the accumulation of water that allows bacteria to breed.

Although it is possible to become infected with a sexual transmitted infection from a toilet seat, it is highly unlikely. For one to become infected the organism would have to have common contact with your urethral or genital tract or through an open cut or sore. Former president of the American Society for Microbiology, Abigail Salyers, PhD, told WebMd, "To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat-unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!"

To avoid becoming infected with any bacteria an individual should practice healthy hygiene such as:

  • Thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water.
  • After washing your hands, use a paper towel to shut off the faucet and open the door.
  • Flushing the toilet with your feet, rather than your hands.
  • If possible use a restroom with toilet paper that is covered with a metal or plastic holder.
  • When using hot-air hand dryers, don't let your hands touch the surface of the vents.
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