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Are Public Restrooms a Health Hazard?

Aug 17, 2007
In a study by Kimberly-Clark Professional, 39% of survey respondents feared picking up germs in a public restroom more than any other place. Is there good reason for the fear or are people overly concerned? Can you reduce the risks?

WHAT'S IN THERE - CAN IT HURT YOU?

Without getting too specific, there are many germs that can thrive in restrooms. Bacteria live off of moisture and organic food (or waste) which can be plentiful in public restrooms.

Fears of contacting STD's (sexually transmitted diseases) from a public washroom have more to do with the fear of the disease than the likelihood of picking it up in a washroom. Many of these bacteria and viruses do not live long enough outside the body to be easily transmitted. However, some experts admit there is a theoretical risk of herpes or crabs being contracted under certain - but unlikely - conditions. Some public facilities provide flushable toilet seat covers, antibacterial cleansers or you can line the seat with toilet paper.

Of greater concern are salmonella and shigella bacteria which can be transferred by contact with feces. The infected person can transmit the bacteria on their hands which can then be transferred to flushing handles, door handles and faucets.

RESTROOM HYGIENE - BATTLING BACTERIA

Foul odors, lack of supplies and puddles on the floors can all be signs of improper maintenance.

Odor that comes from public washrooms can be caused by urine in tile grouting. If the floors aren't properly cleaned daily (or more) then the uric acid salts will not be removed with regular cleansers. These salts provide a food source for bacteria whose digestive processes give off the foul odor.

Products like MicroGuard (tm) from AllDura and even stainless steel can reduce the maintenance required to keep bacteria growth to a minimum.

A lack of supplies (toilet paper, hand drying towels or soap) can also increase the unhygienic conditions of a restroom. Overly crowded restrooms can suffer from a lack of supplies or a lack of available sinks, soap dispensers or dryers.

PERSONAL HYGIENE - THE MAGIC WEAPON

It is the simple truth that hand washing will drastically cut the chance for germ transference. A study done by Scott Papers found that more than nine out of ten respondents claimed to wash their hands when using public restrooms. However, only 67% were actually observed doing so.

As manufacturers of paper products, including towels, the company also states that drying hands thoroughly is imperative in practicing proper hygiene. The moisture left on hands can still carry bacteria. Because of this, air drying machines may not be enough protection since many individuals do not use them long enough to thoroughly dry their hands.

The knowledge that proper washing and drying can protect you from even unsavory public restrooms is comforting. The fact that public washrooms still need to provide the basics for good hygiene, as well as good maintenance is something that needs work. Carrying an antibacterial gel for emergency use is recommended when visiting a public area.
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