Germs on and around toilets present a problem chiefly because of the presence of fecal matter. The term germs can refer to microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. Fecal matter is packed with bacteria and sometimes carries other germs. Additionally, those who come into contact with fecal matter can pick up and infect themselves with the eggs of worms such as tapeworms and pinworms.
Staphylococcus bacteria and streptococcus bacteria carried on skin can be transferred from person to person via the toilet seat. Dr. Harold Oster, infectious disease specialist at Scripps Clinic Medical Group, maintains, however, that the risk of transmission is small. These bacteria cause a range of health problems from skin diseases like impetigo to serious infections such as rheumatic fever.
Fecal coliform bacteria, also known as E.coli, is common to humans, but causes a problem when spread to the vagina, usually by poor wiping technique. Contact between the body and fecal matter left behind on toilet seats can also contribute to transmission. E.coli 0157 most commonly causes recognized infections or outbreaks of human illness, advises the CDC. This bacterial group is one of many that produce Shiga toxin, and infection often is marked by bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, vomiting and low-grade fever, but E.coli also can cause respiratory infections. Dirty hands transfer germs like E.coli to food. According to Foodservice.com, the fecal-hand-oral route, driven by failure to properly wash your hands after using the restroom, is “the No. 1 pathway for foodborne illness." The CDC notes that health care specialists cite hand washing as the “single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease."
Amoebic dysentery is caused by the parasite Entamoeba histolytica, which lives in the large intestine of humans. People contaminate food and water through poor sanitation practices. Direct or indirect oral to anal contact and contact with human waste can spread the parasite. Symptoms of infection include chronic diarrhea, and infection may spread to organs outside of the digestive system, causing significant health problems.
The Norwalk virus is just one example of a viral agent passed through the fecal matter of infected persons. Contaminated food and water, sewage and fecal material on the hands of infected persons can carry the virus from person to person. According to Foodservice.com, a single gram of feces can contain 1 million particles of Norwalk virus, and “the infectious dose for Norwalk virus is only 10 particles.” Viral gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the digestive system characterized by diarrhea and vomiting, is the general term for infections caused by rotaviruses, noroviruses and adenoviruses.
Following a good hand washing ritual is among the best ways to prevent transferring germs to your own body and to surfaces in your surroundings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wetting your hands with warm water before applying soap. Rub your hands together to lather, and then clean your fingers, the backs of your hands, your wrists, the area between your fingers and under your nails. Cleansing should take at least 15 to 20 seconds. Rinse and dry your hands thoroughly. Perform this ritual after using the toilet, cleaning the bathroom, changing a diaper or removing the trash from the restroom.
- MedFriendly: Feces
- Menstuff; Toilet Seats; Harold Oster
- Foodservice.com; Better Handwashing for Life; Lacie Thrall
- Kids Health.org: Teens Health: Why Should I Care About Germs?
- Surgical-Tutor.org.UK; Staphylococcal and Streptococcal Infections; Jan. 3, 2011
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Why is Handwashing Important?; Mar. 6, 2000
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Wash Your Hands; Dec. 15, 2010
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives; Feb. 1, 2011
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Escherichia Coli O157:H7; July 21, 2010
- Univ. of Maryland Medical Center; Urinary Tract Infection -- Causes; Harvey Simon, MD; Aug. 4, 2009
- Univ. of Maryland Medical Center; Amebiasis...; David C. Dugdale, III, MD, et al.; Sept. 17, 2008
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Viral Gastroenteritis; Feb. 25, 2011
What Kind of Bacteria Is on Toilet Seats?
People who are germ-conscious often become even more cautious when using public facilities--especially when sitting on a toilet seat. Bacteria does reside...
Germs From Not Closing the Toilet Lid
Your bathroom gets a lot of traffic throughout the day. With this traffic comes the introduction of germs and bacteria, particularly around...
Bacteria Found in Toilet Bowls
Toilets house a large amount of germs, particularly toilets in public establishments. Interestingly, however, the floor of the bathroom actually contains more...