The Bathroom Habit That Dangerously Spreads the Coronavirus

The Bathroom Habit That Dangerously Spreads the Coronavirus

While the stay-at-home orders and self-quarantining are starting to lift in a number of states across the country, COVID-19 is still spreading at alarming rates, demonstrating just how contagious the novel coronavirus truly is. Even if you’re wearing masks outside, washing your hands for 20 seconds constantly, and scrubbing your surfaces, the fact is, you could still catch the deadly virus. That’s because some seemingly inconspicuous and everyday behaviors can put you at risk, like using the bathroom.

The most common cause having pain or a burning senstation when urinating is a bladder infection, Paulson says. “However, if your urine test comes back negative for infection or the burning and pain is persistent, be sure to dig a little deeper and check your prostate. It could be an easily missed sign of prostate cancer,” she says.

In short, if you are venturing outside of your home, please be sure to use your bathroom before heading out the door. Public restrooms are a place you want to avoid amid the pandemic, seeing as COVID-19 can easily be spread via oral-fecal transmission and some of the earliest coronavirus symptoms appear to be gastrointestinal. But it’s not just public restrooms. Bathrooms, in general, present a fertile environment for the spread of the contagion.

As it turns out, the aerosolization of fecal matter when one flushes the toilet does spread the contagion. But everyone has to go to the bathroom, right? So what to do?

Close the toilet seat before you flush the toilet! That abates the spread of anything that would come from the toilet bowl and great limits that would remain in the air for the next bathroom users. Poorly ventilated indoor areas are also known to be risky places, so do yourself and others a favor and turn the bathroom fan on before you depart!

According to Erin Bromage, a Biology professor at the University of Massachusettes, Dartmouth, there are a lot of reasons why restrooms are high risk in the age of the coronavirus. “Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high,” Bromage noted in a recent blog post. “We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets.”

Prior studies have shown that toilet flushing aerosolizes infectious microbes into the air and those microbes stay airborne for a few minutes. We also know that COVID-19 can spread in fecal material and that early studies show that bathrooms in cruise ships and hospitals were heavily contaminated. So, even if you are dutifully staying away from grandma, or someone infected, but share a bathroom with them,  someone can unwittingly spread the contagion to loved ones if the seat’s not down before flushing.

One of the biggest challenges that the coronavirus outbreak has presented to medical and public health experts is the lack of reliable data. It is, in fact, a novel virus, the likes of which we have never seen. And decisions designed for the benefit of public health are being made at the same time that research is revealing crucial data that is better informing the conditions that are most conducive to the spread of the disease.

Bromage warns: “Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air) until we know more about the risk.”

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