Study reveals that public washrooms are less ‘germy’ than expected

19th of December 2014
Study reveals that public washrooms are less ‘germy’ than expected

Many of us are fastidious about using public toilets because we fear they may be colonised by germs of multiple users.

But a new study published online in the journal "Applied and Environmental Microbiology" has revealed that the average public washroom is no germier than our toilets at home.

Microbiologists tracked viruses and bacteria at four public washooms in a campus building at San Diego State University in the US. First they cleaned and sterilised the facilities, then they monitored microbial activity on floors, toilet seats and soap dispensers. They found that faecal bacteria established the first colonies on all surfaces.

"When you flush the toilet it goes airborne and spreads these viruses throughout the bathroom," said Michael Schmidt, professor and vice chair of microbiology and immunology from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

But the faecal bacteria - which thrive in people's warm, damp intestines - soon gave way to colonies of bacteria found on human skin cells. "Restroom surfaces are dry, barren and resource-poor," researchers concluded. "As such these surfaces probably do not support considerable microbial growth."

People should still clean their hands after using a public bathroom just as they should do so throughout the day, says Schmidt. "If you do not want to become colonised with someone else's stuff, you need to wash your hands to inactivate the microbes you've picked up," he said. "Hand sanitation is the human being's best way of protecting ourselves against diseases."

Overall the researchers concluded that public washrooms are no more healthy or unhealthy than the toilets at home.


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