(WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – Thorough hand washing and sanitizing are now second nature thanks to COVID-19, but a new study has also highlighted the dangers of open toilet lids, uncovered garbage bins, and defective plumbing drains in spreading infections in public bathrooms.
Researchers from the ANU and University of South Australia assessed 38 different studies from 13 countries that investigated the risk of infectious disease transmission in public bathrooms. They found that leaving toilet lids open after flushing can disperse contaminated droplets and particles as far as 4½ feet and can remain in the air for more than 30 minutes. One 2021 study estimated that the number of particles from a toilet flush was equivalent to droplets from a person talking loudly for just over six and a half minutes.
Open-lid toilet flushing was not the only concern, however. Uncovered garbage bins in public bathrooms are also flagged as a risk, especially if located under or close to electric hand dryers. Of the 38 studies, 6 investigated bacterial dispersal in public bathrooms and found that jet air dryers can potentially spread droplets as far as 9 feet. It was also found that ineffective hand washing or hand drying, poor surface cleaning, and blocked drains can contribute to heavy bacterial and viral loads in bathrooms.
Co-author of the paper, UniSA environmental scientist Professor Erica Donner, says anecdotal evidence suggests that people have been avoiding public bathrooms for the past 18 months due to perceived risks of COVID-19 transmission. “Some people have been worried about using public washrooms during the pandemic, but if you minimize your time in the bathroom, wash and dry your hands properly, and don’t use your mobile phone, eat or drink, then the risks should be low, especially if the bathroom is well maintained,” Professor Donner says. She added, “As borders open up and cases increase, people can protect themselves against COVID-19 infection by continuing to practice good hygiene. This includes hand washing and sanitizing, disinfecting door handles, toilet lids and other frequently touched surfaces… These habits will not only lower the risk of COVID-19 infection but also limit the risk of bacterial infections.”