You don't have to be a germaphobe to fear the restrooms at the baseball stadium, local McDonald's or shopping center. The common cold, E. coli and hepatitis A all lie in public toilets and sinks, waiting to pounce on you. Despite many scientific studies stating that these and many other bacteria are ever-present in washrooms, is there any real chance of you catching something serious?
Let's face it; the majority of people who read this article do not wash their hands when they stop for a bathroom break at the office. It's a sad fact, but the wife was right; we are dirty slobs. We use the urinal and, with other things on our mind, we splash some water on our hands, wipe them on our Dockers and head out.
In that 2-minute trip to urinate, not only did we leave tons of germs on every surface we touched, a lot of germs attached themselves to us. What follows are some tips on how to maintain good hygiene in public washrooms as well as the straightening out of some tall toilet tales.
what can you catch?
The facts can appear grim. From a common cold to stomach flu viruses, bad things lurk on sink surfaces, hand-dryers and toilet seats. Without proper care, you're at risk of being bedridden for weeks with a multitude of diseases like the nasty sounding streptococcus (a form of strep throat and meningitis), E.coli, hepatitis A, and staphylococcus (the virus behind food poisoning and a form of pneumonia).
It is highly possible that that strange cold you caught in the middle of summer was transmitted to you through a public washroom. Despite these true risks that exist everywhere you go to drain your main vein, not many people are willing to pull a Howard Hughes and disappear from society.
your first line of defense
There are many simple things that protect you from airborne and surface bacteria, the most powerful being your own immune system. People in decent to excellent health can afford to be reckless more often than the very young or the elderly.
While it is obviously unsanitary to not wash your hands after touching dirty surfaces, more often than not you will come away unscathed. Your body is tough enough. Yet, when your system is already down from allergies or a cold, any introduction of pesky bacteria can extend your sick leave from days to weeks.
Can you catch gonorrhea or chlamydia?
Healthy immune system or not, there is much you can do to avoid being a walking, talking deadly virus. Firstly, wash your damn hands! It is the key to avoiding any germs left from a previous carrier. With hot water, lather up (with soap) for 20-30 seconds, not the one or two ticks you usually spend. Wash your palms and backs of your hand, in between your fingers and under your fingernails. The friction you generated has just killed off the deadliest of bathroom bacteria.
When in the bathroom stall, use your foot to flush. The toilet surface is just another place crawling with sickly potential. When you do flush, make sure you exit the stall immediately after, or else the airborne particles that fly around after you press the lever can get into your lungs and give you a cough or cold.
Use toilet seat covers or generous strips of toilet paper to cover the seat, avoiding contact of bacteria with your bottom. Tear off paper towels to open the faucet and open the door when exiting the bathroom, otherwise touching the metallic surfaces negates the thorough washing of hands. These are all straightforward, simple logical steps everyone should take to maintain a more sanitary lifestyle. You can now shake somebody's hand and exchange greetings, instead of disease.
what can't you catch?
Scary as it seems, organisms known to carry STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea have been found on toilet seats in your local restroom. Yet, unless you have a moderate butt-laceration, there is little chance you'll get the clap. Infections such as these are called sexually transmitted for a reason; they need a genital tract or cut to travel into, which is not likely to occur.
Not only that, but these germs (and other diarrhea-causing bacteria) have a short life span and quickly die after being exposed on the seat, in the sink or anywhere else. Even in the case that you do come into contact with a germ or virus, there has to be a fair amount of it for there to have any effect.
If you sit on urine or get sprayed by toilet water as you flush -- besides being completely revolted -- there is a small chance of infection, just like any other bacteria in the washroom. It's best to wipe off the seat before you get comfortable. Don't be a bum.
quick tips to go
Avoid contact with any surface in the bathroom: cover the toilet seat with paper; use towels to open faucets and doors.
Close the lid of the toilet before flushing to block nasty airborne particles
Wash your hands thoroughly for 30 seconds with soap and hot water, then repeat.
Keep hand sanitizer handy whenever you're in a pinch and need clean hands.
While you don't have to be obsessive-compulsive about good hygiene, you can't go to the other extreme and trust that favorable statistics and a good immune system will save you.
Aside from washing your hands frequently, carrying some wet wipes or hand sanitizer will provide adequate protection. Using your wrist or a paper towel to open doors and faucets can cut your germ-exposure as well.
Despite the relatively high amount of germs present in public bathrooms, it is very simple to avoid any potential problems by following a few steps. Using common sense as a guide, there is no reason to be anxious in the bathroom. Unless you've got the runs...