Can public toilets give you a disease? NHS GP Dr Preethi Daniel answers a question she gets asked all the time
The dreaded place of questionable smells, dark tiled walls and the harshest toilet paper you’ve ever used in your whole life. Welcome to public toilets. The thought of how many people have sat on the same toilet seat, and how many people have ‘forgotten’ to wash their hands on the way out makes most of us shudder. The real question is what diseases are we vulnerable to when using public toilets?
You are more likely to be struck by lightning whilst riding a flying pig than catching a sexually transmitted disease from a public toilet seat
There seems to be a myth that you can catch sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis amongst others just by walking past a public toilet. Before you enter into a blind panic, it is worth mentioning that catching a disease from a public toilet is unlikely. To contract these diseases the germs would have to be directly transferred from the toilet seat to your genital tract, or through an open wound or sore on your legs or buttocks. You are more likely to be struck by lightning whilst riding a flying pig than catching a sexually transmitted disease from a public toilet seat, so please don’t worry.
You are even less likely to catch a common cold through a quick visit to a public toilet as these germs aren’t capable of hanging around on cold, hard surfaces. It could be a possibility that bugs such as E-coli or Salmonella are contractible in a public toilet. You have to be exposed to a substantial amount of a virus or bacteria to contract it, and leave your hands unwashed for this to be a risk. As long as you remember to wash your hands, your own immune system should protect you from any nasties lurking in the bathroom. If you’re in the wrong place (public toilet) at the right time (when the toilet seat is contaminated with germs) it could be a possibility.
There are more germs on the floor of a public toilet than the toilet seat itself
You can’t catch a urine infection by using a public toilet, but your behaviour while using the public bathroom could make you likely to contract an infection. All that squatting and hovering we do to avoid touching the toilet seat, and the mad rush we are in to get out of the toilet cubicle are what can give us a urine infection. By not emptying your bladder completely, in a rush or if you are squatting, you are exposing your body to potentially harmful bacteria. This can, in turn, increase your chances of getting a urinary tract infection.
If you are still concerned about what could follow you out of the public toilets, then here are some tips to survive:
1. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet
2. Carry a travel size antibacterial hand sanitizer for extra protection
3. Cover the toilet seat with toilet paper or use antibacterial wipes
It may seem like common sense, but those really are the best tips for keeping germs at bay. There are more germs on the floor of a public toilet than the toilet seat itself, so just keep your contact with the floor minimal and you will survive the emergency use of a public toilet. Hang up those handbags!
There is no medical evidence to support the transmission of any diseases from a public toilet. Practice good hygiene, and your immune system will do the rest. So take your time, relax and do your thing.
Dr Preethi Daniel is an NHS GP in Hertfordshire and Clinical Director at London Doctors Clinic. She graduated from Kings College London in 2010 and has since gained extensive experience in various hospital specialties during her postgraduate medical and surgical training before becoming a GP. During her junior doctor years, she successfully published a paper on a rare condition affecting the intestines causing excessive vomiting, in GUT magazine. She has well-rounded clinical knowledge in Women’s Health, Child Health, Emergency Medicine and Mental Health. She has experience working with Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group to optimise patient care pathways in the NHS. She currently teaches Community Geriatrics to UCL medical ents and mentors young people on career and interview skills for Universities. Dr Daniel also works as an NHS GP in a busy Hertfordshire practice of over 10,000 patients.