What are the infection risks of using a public toilet?

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Mark asked the Naked Scientists:

Hi love your show, i've been hearing your podcasts for about a year and
they are great!!!

After hearing in one of your programmes about farts and bacteria, I had a sudden urge to run to the bathroom. :P While I was there and giving in to the fact, that i was at work, I asked myself about the possible amount of bacteria that could be found in a public or private bathroom, and what implications can be brought to someone who insists on using often a
public bathroom... even without being directly in contact with anything other than the water handles, in other words airborne nasty buggers.

Thanks for the great shows.

Mark Manata

What do you think?


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What are the infection risks of using a public toilet?
« Reply #1 on: 03/08/2008 12:50:12 »
In 1975 Professor Gerba published a scientific article describing the little-known phenomenon of bacterial and viral aerosols due to toilet flushing. The more you learn about it, the scarier it sounds. According to Gerba, close-up photos of the germy ejecta look like "Baghdad at night during a U.S. air attack." The article ominously depicts a "floor plan of experimental bathroom with location of gauze pads for viral fallout experiments." A lot of virus fell on those gauze pads, Gerba found, and a lot of bacteria too. In fact, significant quantities of microbes floated around the bathroom for at least two hours after each flush.

As Professor Gerba's research would later determine, however, the bathroom was hardly the most dangerous part of the house, microbe-wise. The real pesthole: the kitchen sponge or dishcloth, where fecal coliform bacteria from raw meat and such could fester in a damp, nurturing (for a germ) environment. Next came the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and the kitchen faucet handle. The toilet seat was the least contaminated of 15 household locales studied. "If an alien came from space and studied the bacterial counts," the professor says, "he probably would conclude he should wash his hands in your toilet and crap in your sink."