These Are the Health Risks Lurking in Your Bathroom
It's all the more reason to wash your hands—twice!
It's natural to be wary of public restrooms. But while you may line the seats with toilet paper and open the doors with paper towels while using public facilities, chances are you rarely exercise the same caution when it comes to your bathroom at home. When you think about it though, both spaces are used for largely the same purposes—so it makes sense that they're home to the same germs and bacteria. Yep, your powder room is filled potential with illnesses. Want to know which ones and how you can protect yourself? Well, prepare to get out the cleaning supplies after reading about these 10 potential health risks that very well may be lurking in your bathroom.
Once flu season gets well underway, the spread of respiratory germs becomes a five-alarm concern. And two of the most common places flu germs are found, according to a 2005 study in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health, are bathroom taps and door knobs.
Thankfully, if you're looking to stop them in their tracks, just heed the advice you've heard a million times over. "Preventing the flu with a flu vaccine is a great idea for everyone," says David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Routine colds can be prevented by sneezing into your elbow and washing your hands after any exposure. Keep your distance from those who are ill, even at home."
E. Coli—a bacteria that can cause intestinal infections—is commonly found in bathrooms, says Gina Posner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. To prevent its spread, Posner recommends sticking to the following three rules like glue.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet every time!
- Regularly wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes.
- Keep your toothbrushes well away from the toilet.
Places like the toilet handle, faucets, and toilet paper dispenser—along with anything else someone may touch after using the toilet—are prime locations for Shigella, a type of bacteria that can be found in fecal matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bacteria causes an infectious disease called Shigellosis, which lasts from five to seven days and causes fever, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The easiest way to defang Shigella is to hold fast to the golden rule of restrooms: Wash your hands (yes, with soap)!
Gram-positive cocci—a harmful type of bacteria that can cause all manner of skin infections, including folliculitis and impetigo—isn't everywhere in your bathroom, but it is in some key places. One study conducted by the folks at SafeHome found it on faucets, toilet seats, and the interior of bathroom doors.
Of all the bacteria that cause skin infections, staph aureus is the most common. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, it can be found on light switches, doorknobs, toilets, sinks, tubs, showers, counters, and faucets. It's also, in recent years, become quite resilient. Nowadays, some strains are impervious to antibiotics. "So-called methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA, is a serious health concern in homes," says Cutler. And that includes your bathroom!
Typically, the infection begins as an aching red bump that looks like a spider bite. But, if left untreated, the bacteria will make their way inside the body, causing bone, joint, and bloodstream infections that can be fatal.
The SafeHome study also found gram-negative bacteria in numerous parts of the bathroom, including on the shower curtain, shower floor, toothbrush handles, and toilet seat. Gram-negative bacteria, which are sometimes also resistant to drugs, can cause serious illnesses, like pneumonia.
When you shower at the gym, you know full well to wear flip-flops. But you'd be wise to slip them on in your home shower, too. As Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's, points out, your shower floor can be a caustic wasteland of various bacteria, including candida, which can cause fungal infections like jock itch, ringworm, or athlete's foot.
If you've had norovirus, you know just how bad it can get. If you haven't, well, just know that you want to avoid it at all costs. (In extreme cases, norovirus can cause such severe vomiting and rapid dehydration that you'll have to go to the hospital and get an IV drip.) The biggest thing to know about norovirus is that it's extremely contagious, so if someone in your household has been sick in the bathroom, you'll want to give it a thorough cleaning before using it yourself.
According to the CDC, infected folks can dispel hundreds of millions of particles—and it just takes a few particles to get infected yourself. Also, since there are so many different types of the disease, you can't build up an immunity. There's only one safeguard: a thorough hand-washing regimen.
The bad news about giardiasis? It's about as common as hay in a haystack. Giardia, the bacteria that causes the infection, can be found basically everywhere, from lakes and ponds to poorly cooked food to baby-changing stations and bathroom hardware. The good news about giardiasis? According to the CDC, even if you're infected, so long as you're not showing any symptoms, treatment isn't necessary.
If you think you can only find salmonella in the kitchen, think again. According to Cutler, it can also live in the bathroom. A 2000 study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that, in households where someone had recently suffered an attack of salmonellosis, the bacteria lingered under the recess of the toilet bowl rim, making it difficult to purge entirely. So if you or someone you live with had salmonella poisoning, make sure to thoroughly disinfect the entire bathroom. And for tips on making sure germs don't survive in your bathroom, check out the 33 Super Effective Old-School Cleaning Tricks You've Never Tried.
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