How bad are the germs in public toilets really?

More important than whether you use a cover, sit or float is how well you wash your hands after using the bathroom, said Dr. Donner. Thanks to the toilet plume effect and the use of handheld air dryers, which she said can spread germs from wet hands or nearby open trash cans up to 10 feet, any surface in a public toilet — recessed handles, stall latches, sink faucets and exit doors, for example — may be contaminated. And the most common route of infection is “the charmingly named “fecal-oral route,” which occurs when pathogens from an infected person’s feces get into your mouth after “touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face,” he said. dr. Donner.

For hand washing to be effective, Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wet hands with clean water, scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinse, then dry. But most people don’t wash their hands long enough, and public restrooms often run out of soap and paper towels. It’s also sometimes hard to wash properly, such as in airplane toilets with their tiny sinks and droplets of water, and hard to avoid touching a surface afterward, said Dr. Gerba. After all public toilet visits, “the best option is to wash your hands and then use a hand sanitizer when you go outside,” he said.

Other tips to keep in mind: If you take a purse or handbag to a public restroom, don’t place it on the floor, which is one of the dirtiest surfaces in a bathroom, said Dr. Gerba. Keep your phone stored to avoid contamination, and try to touch surfaces as much as possible, Dr. Don’t. Also consider closing the toilet lid before flushing as a public health measure and a kindness to others; this step reduces toilet plume considerable.

One thing you don’t have to worry about is contracting a sexually transmitted disease in a toilet, said Dr. Park. “I’m not going to say it’s absolutely impossible, but it’s so unlikely,” she said. Pathogens such as gonorrhea and chlamydia don’t survive long on surfaces, and they have to get into the penis or vagina to cause infection, she said. “Where we sit on the toilet seat is just not in the right neighborhood.”

Alice Callahan is an Oregon health and science journalist and a regular contributor to The New York Times.

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