Study reveals bacteria counts on public restroom surfaces

We all know public bathrooms are coated with bacteria, but what kind are they, and how did they get there?The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported a paper in PLoS ONE in which researchers used “high-throughput genetic sequencing to detect bacteria on 10 different surfaces in 12 men’s and women’s bathrooms on a college campus.”

They found that “bacteria associated with the gut were common on toilet surfaces, signifying fecal contamination (and an argument for seat protectors). … The floor had the biggest bacteria party, revealing what the authors called ‘diverse bacterial communities’ of organisms, including several typically found in soil. … The authors said this emphasizes the importance of hand washing after using the facilities.”

Some toilet flush handles also had bacteria comparable to what was found on the floor. Getting the picture? It suggests some people flush the handles with their feet, a practice, the authors wrote, “well known to germophobes and those who have had the misfortune of using restrooms that are less than sanitary.”

The Washington Post “The Checkup” blog reported, “Most of the bacteria found throughout the bathrooms were those typically found on human skin. That finding’s important, the authors note, because those bacteria can include pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, which can easily be spread when hands come into contact with contaminated surfaces.”

The take-home message? Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, folks.


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