It’s probably the strangest hiding spot yet for the deadly coronavirus. And it’s not something ANY of us like to think about. So it’s no surprise most people never even consider the toilet as ground zero for the bug.
But what we flush is such a reliable indication of infection that health officials across the country now regularly test wastewater for the coronavirus.
In fact, they can often even predict a coming spike in COVID-19 cases just based on those results alone.
Now, new research reveals one more place in the human waste chain where the virus can hide. You see, it’s not always just in the wastewater that goes down the toilet drain. The virus can circulate in the air in the bathroom too.
Because as uncomfortable as it is to think about, the simple act of flushing can cause a potentially dangerous plume of viruses to spread across the bathroom.
But how real is the risk of catching the coronavirus this way? The new study may give us a clue.
Do public restrooms raise your COVID-19 risk?
I know bathroom talk can be a bit embarrassing. But hang in here with me for a bit longer. This is important
A new report in the journal Science of the Total Environment takes a closer look at things in a spot where most of us don’t care to look too closely at anything. And that, of course, is public restrooms where there’s often a lot of flushing going on.
The researchers found that a single toilet flush can send viruses and bacteria flying about five feet into the air. And as if that’s not disturbing enough, it gets worse.
Those bugs can continue floating around the restroom for about half an hour after each flush.
But there’s some good news too. The researchers didn’t find any evidence of coronavirus transmission from public toilets despite those disgusting plumes.
Of course, that doesn’t mean COVID-19 has never been caught this way. But it hasn’t been spotted yet in this study or others. And if public restrooms were a significant cause of coronavirus transmission, that most likely would have been revealed by now.
Which, honestly, makes sense to me. After all, most of us spend as little time as possible in a public toilet. You’re in, and you’re out.
And even long before the pandemic, you probably held your breath as much as possible through the whole ordeal.
The TRUTH about your TOILET
Still, there are at least two reasons for caution with your home toilet.
First, research shows much of the COVID-19 transmission happens at home. One person accidentally brings the virus into the house. And despite your best precautions, the rest of the family soon gets sick, too.
The fact is many of us have to share a bathroom at home. And even if you can dedicate a bathroom to the sick family member, you’re still spending a lot of time in the enclosed space of your home with them.
So there’s at least a possibility that toilet plumes could help the virus circulate in your home and increase your risk of catching it. And that’s especially true if the infected person has diarrhea, a common COVID-19 symptom.
But simply putting the lid down before flushing could cut way back on that risk. It will help keep the virus trapped in the toilet. That way, it gets flushed down the drain instead of being sprayed into the air inside your home.
And second, even without a coronavirus threat, there could be plenty of other nasty germs lurking in the toilet. The new study found intestinal, skin, and soil bacteria, as well as respiratory viruses, were getting deposited all over public restrooms by the plumes.
Simple steps to minimize any potential toilet risks
You can choose to avoid public bathrooms. Or simply minimize the risk by getting in and out as quickly as you can. But we’re stuck with the problem at home. And nasties from those potty plumes can float around and land on the things you use every day. Even your toothbrush.
So wear your mask in public restrooms. Get in and out quick. Keep the lid down on the toilet at home. And don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly in either place.
What IS thoroughly when it comes to keeping our mitts clean? Click here to find out the truth about the 20-second rule. Is it real or bogus?