By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
If you squirm at the thought of creepy germs lurking on toilet
seats and faucet handles, you probably spend as little time as possible in the
restrooms of your office building, not to mention those in restaurants, hotels
and (God forbid!) gas stations. And during those nerve-wracking moments when
you dare to venture into the confines of the bathroom, you may find yourself
pushing open the stall door with your elbows, crouching precariously above the
toilet seat rather than letting your skin touch it, and flushing with your
But while there's plenty of bathroom paranoia to go around,
anxiety might be a little overdone. Yes, there can be plenty of bugs lying in
wait in public restrooms, including both familiar and unfamiliar suspects like
streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli and
shigella bacteria, hepatitis A virus, the common
cold virus, and various sexually transmitted organisms. But if your immune
system is healthy, and if you adopt simple hygienic measures like handwashing,
you should be able to deliver a knockout punch to most of what you encounter
and perhaps put your "germ-phobia" to rest.
No doubt about it, there could be a witch's brew of germs
wherever you turn in public restrooms. Many people consider toilet seats to be
public enemy No. 1 -- the playground for organisms responsible for STDs like chlamydia or gonorrhea. But before you panic, the
toilet seat is not a common vehicle for transmitting infections to
humans. Many disease-causing organisms can survive for only a short time on the
surface of the seat, and for an infection to occur, the germs would have to be
transferred from the toilet seat to your urethral or genital tract, or through
a cut or sore on the buttocks or thighs, which is possible but very
"To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet
seat -- unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!" says Abigail Salyers,
PhD, president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).
Common cold germs, like most viruses, die rapidly, and thus may
be less of a threat than you think. "Even if you come into contact with
particular viruses or bacteria, you'd have to contract them in amounts large
enough to make you sick," says Judy Daly, PhD, professor of pathology at the
University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Germs in feces can be propelled into the air when the toilet is
flushed. For that reason, Philip Tierno, MD, director of clinical microbiology
and diagnostic immunology at New York University Medical Center and Mt. Sinai
Medical Center, advises leaving the stall immediately after flushing to keep
the microscopic, airborne mist from choosing you as a landing site. "The
greatest aerosol dispersal occurs not during the initial moments of the flush,
but rather once most of the water has already left the bowl," he says.