Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bacterial contamination from toilet flushing

I recently completed a long car trip, and thus spent more than a moment in public restrooms. Once in the stall, purse and road atlas in hand, I faced each time the dilemma of where to stow my gear whilst completing my business. Some facilities have elegant shelves to hold these items, others a hook on the door, some no place at all but the more or less unsavory floor. Imagine then how floored I was to read this item in the latest issue of Health Magazine(1):

"Don't put your purse on the bathroom floor; E coli in spray droplets following a flush may land on it. Hang it in the stall, and clean it inside and out weekly with a disinfecting spray or wipe."

Flushed with doubt, I wondered if this was all some sensationalist piece of journalistic nonsense designed to sell magazines and Wireless Wipes. But alas, check this out and think it over the next time you set your bag on the only dry spot on the tiled floor of a public can:

Microbiologists in the UK (2) contaminated "the sidewalls and bowl water of a domestic toilet to mimic the effects of soiling after an episode of acute diarrhoea." In other words, they dumped a gelatinous turdoid sort of matter containing fecal pathogens into the toilet bowl. Cultures of the bowl water and porcelain surfaces confirmed that significant colonies of the little darlings were clinging for dear life therein. They then flushed, and subsequent testing of the toilet AND the surrounding air confirmed that the bacteria had diminished in numbers in the actual toilet (thank heavens) but that a significant number of them had been jettisoned into the air on aerosol droplets of toilet water.

Dr. Barker and company concluded: "Many individuals may be unaware of the risk of air-borne dissemination of microbes when flushing the toilet and the consequent surface contamination that may spread infection within the household, via direct surface-to-hand-to mouth contact. Some enteric viruses could persist in the air after toilet flushing and infection may be acquired after inhalation and swallowing."

Think about it. Your toothbrushes sit how far from your toilet? My bathroom cup is inches away from mine. Do you close the cover before flushing? All this dainty hand washing, was it before or after you picked up your purse from the bathroom floor?

1) Health. November, 2009. p. 20.
2) Barker, J, Jones, MV. The potential spread of infection caused by aerosol contamination of surfaces after flushing a domestic toilet. J Appl Microbiol. 2005;99(2):339-47.


kenju said...

I read that a few months ago and now I try very hard not to set my purse in the floor. Some people hang them around their necks if there is not a shelf or a hook. If there is a lid, I close it. At home, our toilet is in a separate room, so we don't have to worry about contaminating the toothbrushes.

Cilicious said...

Our toilet is in a separate room, too. But not long ago, we were staying someplace that, while ostensibly immaculate, had the most powerful toilet I've ever experienced. Every time I flushed, I'd quickly back away because the droplets were spewing everywhere.
I could just imagine all the little heat-seeking missile germs.
I never put my purse on the floor, and have indeed been known to hang it around my neck. I've used some fairly nasty potties. ;)

Reality Man said...

I suggest relocating your toilet further away from your cup. What is it with girls and purses? And do not most people rinse their toothbrushes before using them? We had similar early toilet training, I think, but different later preoccupations.

femail doc said...

KJ and Cil: I like the idea of toilets in separate rooms. Seems to be a common style in hotels these days. As for hanging my purse around my neck, well the one I use now would probably strangle me and the picture of me with a satchel wrapped around my neck hovering above a public toilet (isn't that why we do all these silly exercises--so we can support our back ends inches above the gas station seat?) makes me laugh. But Cil, I've been there for sure, that place with the nuclear powered flush!

RM: What makes you think a little rinse will take those coliform bacteria off your brush? What makes me think that these flying flushdrops really cause a significant amount of disease? I've seen no evidence of it in my practice. It is, nevertheless, cause for pause, no?

Anonymous said...

Hey un 'reality man'.... wouldnt it be easier to relocate the cup, not the toilet?
yeah man, you are so cool ....heh

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Mauigirl said...

Well, at home I'm not so worried. We do usually put the lid down before flushing. And I periodically wash my toothbrush with antibacterial soap, and for that matter my toothpaste, Total, has some of that same antibacterial agent in it as the soap.

But the public restroom thing is very sobering! Yuck. I do usually hang the bag around my neck if there is no hook but even still....