You’ve done the crime, now you better not do the time – ‘time’ in this case being the seconds elapsing and bacteria spewing forth from the toilet bowl if you don’t turn around and shut the goddamn lid after flushing.
A new study from the ANU and University of South Australia assessed 38 different studies from 13 countries that investigated the risk of infectious disease transmission in public toilets, finding that leaving toilet lids open after flushing can disperse contaminated droplets 1.5 metres and remain in the air for 30 minutes.
1.5 metres! Seriously, it’s enough for you to consider going to a public toilet in a hazmat suit.
If you already regarded public toilets as satanic germ traps, your suspicions were largely spot on. The review looked at the risks of COVID-19 and other infectious disease transmission in bathrooms, public toilets in restaurants, workplaces, commercial premises and universities, finding widespread evidence of contaminated surfaces as a cause of faecal-oral transmission. Thankfully there were no documented cases of airborne-related infectious disease transmission.
“While there is limited evidence of COVID-19 transmission via public washrooms, they are rife with bacteria, especially those that are used frequently and not cleaned properly,” says study co-author, Professor Erica Donner.
A wide range of intestinal, skin, and soil bacteria and respiratory viruses were identified in public toilets, posing risks of transmission. Open-lid toilet flushing, ineffective hand washing or hand drying, poor surface cleaning, blocked drains and uncovered rubbish bins all contribute to heavy bacterial and viral loads in washrooms, Donner adds.
Six studies investigated bacterial dispersal in public toilets, showing jet air dryers can potentially spread droplets as far as three metres, while a 2021 study estimated that the number of particles from a toilet flush was equivalent to droplets from a person talking loudly for just over six-and-a-half minutes.
To get in and out of a public toilet without contracting a bacterial infection, Donner advises lid-closing, handwashing and using disinfectant wipes on door handles and other frequently touched surfaces. Probably keep your mask on, too!
“These habits will not only lower the risk of COVID-19 infection but also limit the risk of bacterial infections.”