What Can You Catch in Restrooms?
Other hot zones in public bathrooms include sinks, faucet
handles, and towel dispensers. Picture someone emerging from a bathroom stall,
and turning on the faucet with dirty hands, and you'll know why faucet handles
are a potentially troublesome surface. Studies at the University of Arizona in
Tucson found that sinks are the greatest reservoir of germ colonies in
restrooms, thanks in part to accumulations of water that become breeding
grounds for tiny organisms.
"Your own immune system is your first line of defense against
contracting diseases in public restrooms," says Daly. But hand washing is a
very important adjunct. Yet a survey that was part of ASM's Clean Hands
Campaign revealed this dirty little secret: Though 95% of men and women claim
that they wash after using a public toilet, observations made by researchers
discovered that only 67% actually do.
"Many people are unconcerned about microorganisms because you
can rush out of an airport bathroom without washing your hands, and lightning
won't strike you," says Salyers. "So these people may think that handwashing is
not all that important."
Even if you wash your hands, you may not do it properly, says
Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs. "Some individuals move their
hands quickly under a flow of water for only a second or so, and they don't use
soap. That's not going to do much good."
Tierno advises rubbing soapy water all over the hands and
fingers for 20 to 30 seconds, including under the fingernails. As you create
friction by rubbing the hands together, you'll loosen the disease-causing
particles on the hands. After rinsing thoroughly, repeat the process, he
Even if you're a frequent visitor to public restrooms, you can
coexist peacefully and even healthfully with the germs around you. In addition
to handwashing, try these strategies:
- Rather than flushing the toilet with your bare hand, use your shoe.
Everyone else is probably doing it.
- After washing your hands, use a paper towel to shut off the faucet and to
open the door on your way out, in order to keep from becoming contaminated,
- Whenever possible, use a restroom stall with toilet paper that is almost
completely covered in a metal or plastic holder, which will guard against
splattering water and germs.
- Use hot-air hand dryers with care. In order to feel the hot air, you might
have to get very close to the vents. Don't let your hands touch the surface of
the vents, however, or you'll risk contamination.