Common Infections (Prevention) from a public toilet
what is a 'toilet infection'?
Usually, people (women in particular) use the term 'toilet infection' to refer to symptoms of infection occurring in the private parts – itching, vaginal discharge, painful urination or sex etc
It is a 'layman' (non-professional) term referring to these symptoms which actually do not arise from dirty toilets.
People commonly use it to refer to problems associated with vaginal infection symptoms.
Women associate these vaginal symptoms as being a result of using the toilet but more often these symptoms arise from either a sexually transmitted infection like Chlamydia or Gonorrhea; or non-sexual infections like Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) or Thrush (Candida).
But can you get infections from the toilet?
There are a group of different infections that could arise from the use of the toilet.
These infections are due to bugs/germs (for example bacteria, parasites and viruses) that are passed between people using public toilets.
In dirty toilets, these germs survive outside the human body on toilet seats, door handles and flush knobs of the water cisterns. These bugs are not visible to the naked eyes which makes users easily susceptible to infection.
However, be careful - because even a toilet that appears clean may hold large reservoirs of germs/bugs.
These present with many symptoms, some of which may be non-specific such as a common cold.
Others include gut and urinary symptoms and skin infections.
If not treated quickly, the infection may enter into the bloodstream causing more severe illness (sepsis) that may become life-threatening.
It's also important to note that the toilet is NOT the only source of these infections, as these germs can be present in other locations.
However, the purpose of this post is to highlight to us that these infections can happen after using a public toilet.
In public toilets, it is very easy for the germs to congregate transmit from one person to the next after using the toilet.
Germs that lead to Infections from the toilet.
Now, let’s look closely into some common bugs and the symptoms of toilet infections that could occur.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
- This is one of the most common causes of a toilet infection passing from person to person through contaminated human wastes.
- By eating contaminated food (food poisoning), a person develops a gut infection or gastroenteritis caused by the bug.
- This person can infect the toilet if they do not practice proper hygiene, and thus infect the next toilet user.
- Common symptoms include: an upset tummy, diarrhoea or vomiting, fever etc.
- It's also important to know that the same germ can move from the gut by passing from the anal region to the bladder via the urinary tubes close to the vagina or in the penis.
- This could cause a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), also known as bladder infection or kidney infection.
- Symptoms can include painful urination, blood in the urine, fever and abdominal pain etc.
This is another gut infection which is notorious for causing dysentery (diarrhoea containing mucus and blood).
The form of dysentery it causes is known as bacillary dysentery or shigellosis.
It is highly contagious and so easily passes from person to person in toilets with contamination.
The symptoms will also include abdominal pain, fever, tiredness etc
Hepatitis A infection
This is a viral bug that may cause liver disease.
It results from contact with infected human waste and spread from the faeces to the mouth.
Here again, contaminated toilets play a huge part in association with practices such as not washing hands after using the toilet or before eating.
Although almost everyone who gets it recovers fully from Hepatitis A infection (with lifelong immunity), having the infection can be really distressing.
It presents with symptoms such as fatigue, nausea & vomiting, joints & abdominal pains, dark urine, fever and jaundice etc
Staphylococcus aureus ("staph") as it is commonly known is notorious for causing several types of infections including skin infections such as:
- cellulitis (a superficial skin infection called which leaves your skin red and very painful),
- urinary tract infections and others.
It could also cause severe bone infections, and lead to potentially life-threatening blood infection and Sepsis especially if there are delays in diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms will depend on the location of the infection in each case.
Globally, this is a very common cause of gastroenteritis - affecting young children in particular. The symptoms also include vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal upset as described above. If not promptly managed it can lead to dehydration.
Other germs that can be associated with using dirty toilets can include Norovirus, Streptococcus , Influenza - etc. The key factors are unclean environments, and contact that allows transmission from one person to another.
As some of these infections are highly contagious (gastroenteritis), it is very important to avoid work or school once you come down with them. Prompt presentation at a health facility and treatment by a competent health professionals is important.
Also, it is important to keep well hydrated during an episode of gastroenteritis to prevent dehydration and possible kidney injury.
Popular Myths about Toilet Infections
- Toilet infections are STIs (Sexually transmitted infection)
Just as the name implies, sexual infections pass from one person to the next via sexual contact/intercourse - not through using the toilet and they include Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, etc.
- Bacterial vaginosis is a toilet infection
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginal discharge and itching in women, and it is not transmitted via toilet seats. It is caused by an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in a female genital tract.
8 of the best ways to prevent infection in public toilets.
- Use a toilet seat cover if one is available and if possible use a flushable covering over the toilet seat cover before using the toilet.
- Flush the toilet using a paper towel to hold the knob.
- Use a clean tissue to open a sanitary bin.
- After using the toilet, wash your hands. Time yourself by singing “Happy Birthday” twice. Use soap and rub your hands together. The friction and water should wash the germs off.
- Use a paper towel to turn off the sink (Remember, dirty hands turned it on!)
- Take a towel paper with you to open and close the door or preferably use your elbow.
- Keep your personal belongings off the toilet floor.
- Carry your own hand sanitizer with you at all times - this may be handy for use on visibly clean hands - if there is no running water available.
As you can see, to prevent infections from toilets, everyone needs to play their part.
If you think you have a one of these infections, seek medical treatment in a health care facility from qualified healthcare professionals.
When using a public toilet facility, take necessary precautions as recommended above to protect yourself.
Remember to carry in your bags/pocket hand sanitizers and pocket tissues - and ALWAYS leave the toilet clean after use for the next person.
Those who provide and manage public toilet facilities should ensure that public toilets are kept clean and well ventilated; that there is regular running water, soap, hand towels and dryers; that there is stable supply of liquid dispensable soaps; and toilet paper.
Do you have any tips for preventing toilet-linked infections? Share some in the comments below.
Edited by AskAwayHealth Team