Ask Well: Catching Disease From a Toilet SeatPosted on October 2, 2016 by ECR Louisville in Blog
What diseases can you really get from toilet seats?
People really do fear toilet seats. One 1991 British survey of 528 women at an ob-gyn clinic found that 85 percent said they crouched over public toilets while urinating, and 12 percent papered the seat. Only 2 percent sat all the way down.
But what diseases can you really get?
In theory, lots. Realistically, toilet seats are relatively low risk compared to many other surfaces.
The first thing to stop worrying about is sexually transmitted diseases. There is no medical evidence that anyone has ever picked up a venereal disease from a toilet seat. But there is a reason that myth has persisted for generations.
When confronted by an angry partner wanting to know how it is that he or she suddenly has symptoms of syphilis, gonorrhea, pubic lice or any other unpleasantry, it is much easier to answer “I have no idea, dear — I must have gotten it from a toilet seat” than it is to tell the truth.
People almost always get those diseases the old-fashioned way — from other people. Most require that a dose large enough to infect be deposited inside the vagina or anus, which are lined with hospitable cells. While it’s true that lice can travel on towels and clothes, they find cold hard surfaces difficult to survive on. Lice need human warmth, and their claw-like feet do not attach to smooth plastic, wood or porcelain.
On the other hand, hard surfaces can hold other bacteria and viruses, sometimes for days.
Studies — some done in hospital bathrooms — have found dangerous strains on toilet seats, including antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus (one of several “flesh-eating bacteria”), norovirus (the “cruise ship bug”), E. coli, shigella and streptococcus. In theory, even Ebola could be picked up from a toilet.
These microbes are excreted in feces or vomit; if that’s visible on the seat, most sensible people would choose another stall.
What’s more worrisome is that modern tankless toilets can flush violently with gurgling that creates a spray of barely visible droplets that can fly several feet.
Antiseptic wipes — easily purchased in pocket-sized packets — have been shown to reduce germs on toilet seats by 50-fold.
Even so, the danger is minimal unless the germs get into an open cut or are carried by a hand to the mouth, nose or eyes.
Intact skin is an effective germ barrier, and the skin of the buttocks and legs is relatively thick. It is also less likely to be cracked than the skin of the hands or face because it is normally sheltered from sunlight, dishwashing detergent, tools and other assaults.
Careful handwashing with soap and water is the best defense. Butswab studies have shown that many bathroom surfaces — flush handles, door latches, faucet handles, towel dispenser handles, and so on — are as dirty as, or dirtier, than the seats.
The fastidious may want to keep an antiseptic wipe in their hands, or press on the towel dispenser with an elbow or any part of a hand that won’t fit into an eye or nose, and then use the paper towel to touch other surfaces — including the exit door.
However, many other places far from toilets are colonized by microbes. The usual suspects include kitchen sponges, playground equipment, gym mats, remote controls and the keyboards of shared computers.
About the Author:
The New York TimesBy DONALD G. MCNEIL JR.