What Kind Germs Are Found on a Public Drinking Fountain?


Modern public drinking fountains, invented in the early 20th century, were intended to provide more hygienic access to drinking water. More recently, studies have concluded that public drinking fountains are germ-laden devices. In 2005, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a nonprofit organization involved in public health and safety awareness, reported that bacteria levels on surfaces of school drinking fountains were unsafe. Because they are not routinely disinfected, the damp areas on and around water fountains are perfect breeding grounds for different types of germs, bacteria and viruses.


  • The 2005 NSF study reported 2.7 million bacteria cells per square inch on school water fountains, the highest bacteria count for all tested surfaces. Two harmful types of bacteria are commonly detected on public water fountain surfaces: E. coli and coliform. Exposure to these bacteria can result in stomachache, headache, vomiting and severe diarrhea. To lower the risk of contamination, Highlight Health Network recommends running the water in a public fountain for at least 15 seconds before drinking.


  • Viruses can survive for only a short time outside the body and quickly die on surfaces like a water fountain, unless another live host arrives. Viruses are expelled from the body though sneezing, spitting or coughing. People with colds or flu require water to stay hydrated, and if someone coughs or sneezes while at a public drinking fountain, the virus germs can attach themselves to the surface of fountain for the next person to pick up. Viruses are responsible for a multitude of illnesses including colds and many types of flu.


  • The rotavirus is very contagious and can spread easily to both children and adults. It enters the body through the mouth and infects the lining of the intestines. Large amounts of the virus are shed through feces of a carrier. A common way rotavirus is spread is when an infected person with contaminated hands touches a surface such as a water fountain. Rotavirus is very stable and can remain in the environment and on surfaces for weeks or months if not disinfected.

Protozoa and Fungi

  • Less commonly found on public water fountains are germs classified as protozoa and fungi. Both types of germs thrive on warm, moist surfaces and have been found on the spigots of drinking fountains, especially those located outdoors. Fungi are the germs responsible for mold production; protozoa germs can be contracted through contaminated water coming from the drinking fountain source, causing nausea, diarrhea and other stomach disorders.

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  • Photo Credit drinking fountain image by michael langley from Fotolia.com
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