How Public toilets spread COVID-19

People can take simple steps to protect themselves and others from the spread of novel coronavirus while using shared public facilities.

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Since the virus spreads through droplet secretions from infected people, gyms, pools, salons and shisha cafés are some of the facilities where residents need to be vigilant about preventive measures.

Close the toilet before flushing

Due to what’s called a “toilet plume,” fecal or urine matter can be pushed from the toilet into the air and spread onto other surfaces, a study says.

But now scientists warn the possibility that particles spread through flushing could pose a risk of virus transmission, Forbes reports.

“Contaminated toilets have been clearly shown to produce large droplet and droplet nuclei bioaerosols during flushing, and research suggests that this toilet plume could play an important role in the transmission of infectious diseases for which the pathogen is shed in feces or vomit,” the study, published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information said.

In other words, public restrooms may well be an important mechanism for spreading the Covid-19 virus. In light of these facts, I believe the following steps are critical to protecting public health:

1.     All public health agencies and local governments should give serious consideration to closing or restricting the use of public restrooms during the course of the epidemic.

2.     The public should be advised to avoid the use of public restrooms whenever possible.

The most common cause having pain or a burning senstation when urinating is a bladder infection, Paulson says. “However, if your urine test comes back negative for infection or the burning and pain is persistent, be sure to dig a little deeper and check your prostate. It could be an easily missed sign of prostate cancer,” she says. While the stay-at-home orders and self-quarantining are starting to lift in a number of states across the country, COVID-19 is still spreading at alarming rates, demonstrating just how contagious the novel coronavirus truly is. Even if you’re wearing masks outside, washing your hands for 20 seconds constantly, and scrubbing your surfaces, the fact is, you could still catch the deadly virus. That’s because some seemingly inconspicuous and everyday behaviors can put you at risk, like using the bathroom.

In short, if you are venturing outside of your home, please be sure to use your bathroom before heading out the door. Public restrooms are a place you want to avoid amid the pandemic, seeing as COVID-19 can easily be spread via oral-fecal transmission and some of the earliest coronavirus symptoms appear to be gastrointestinal. But it’s not just public restrooms. Bathrooms, in general, present a fertile environment for the spread of the contagion.

Given that more than half of the infected passengers on the Diamond Princess Cruise had no symptoms, it’s clear that there are many asymptomatic infections. The possibility that people without symptoms can spread the disease may explain why the disease has been so difficult to contain. But how is it spreading?

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On that front, a third paper on this issue raises a possibility that has already drawn extensive media attention and misinterpretation. The paper looked at how long the virus stays viable on various surfaces and in aerosols. As well described in a Wired magazine article, the paper showed that the droplets deposited on a surface can survive for between 24 (on cardboard) and 72 (on steel or plastic) hours. It also found that it remained viable in an aerosol for up to three hours. This did not mean, as some outlets have claimed, that airborne transmission is likely. The aerosol from a hairspray, for example, does not remain in the air for three hours after you spray it. But there is another place aerosols are found and nobody’s talking about it.

A study of Chinese hospitals around Wuhan during the peak of the outbreak found that samples taken in the bathrooms of patients had concentrations of the virus that were higher than any other area of the hospital, including patient rooms, with the exception of the areas where they removed contaminated protective gear. Flushing toilets have long been known to produce aerosols when flushed. The presence of corona virus in feces is well established, including the feces of asymptomatic children. In fact, fecal contamination may well have played a role in the 2002 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong.

According to Erin Bromage, a Biology professor at the University of Massachusettes, Dartmouth, there are a lot of reasons why restrooms are high risk in the age of the coronavirus. “Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high,” Bromage noted in a recent blog post. “We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets.”

“If you do not want to become colonized with someone else’s poo, you need to wash your hands and sanitize to inactivate the microbes you’ve picked up.


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