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What Can You Catch in Restrooms?

Bathroom Paranoia

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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 says.

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, says Tierno.
  • 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.

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