Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bathroom/Laundy Fomites: Mmmm....

For this blog post I decided on a topic that will undoubtedly gross a lot of you out, and certainly make you far more aware of pathogens.
When professor Latto mentioned fomites such as doorknobs, teddy bears, and more, I started thinking about everyday objects that could be fomites. As it turns out, almost every thing could be a fomite, but most you do not have to worry about. What i did want to explore, however, is fomites in the bathroom, specifically the toilet and its seat.
I began doing my research and quickly ran across a phenomenon that some of you may know about without realizing it, the toilet plume. It is a simple, but utterly nasty, side effect of flushing the toilet that is defined by a plume of toilet water droplets being shot into the air, and spreading throughout the bathroom. According to university if Arizona professor Charles Gerba, who conducted a study on this in the 70's, bacteria and viruses where shot into the air at a height of up to six feet, and remained airborne for up to 2 hours after each flush, before finally settling on surfaces, including your toothbrush. The average number of visible water droplets per flush ranged from 27-104, and covered an average area of 6 square meters, or ~20 square feet.

Some may suggest closing the lid before flushing, but Dr. Gerba found this had no effect on the amount of bacteria released, just slowed the time span, giving you time to wash your hands and get out before it reached the sink, in many cases. Since this is not fun to think about, I tracked down a nice video and put it:


And while this may freak you out to no end, take heart in the fact that the bathroom, and the top of the toilet seat specifically, are among the less bacteria rife objects in your house/dorm. Take for instance, a sponge used to clean pots and pans, it is rife with bacteria because it presents the prefect breeding ground for them, warm moist, and often dark. Oh, and your wet laundry? Even worse. Because there are trace amounts of fecal matter in underwear, when that underwear gets washed, the fecal matter gets tossed around in a warm dark place and spreads to your other clothes. Say you wash the undies separately, well the bacteria remains in the washer even after several non-infected washes. God forbid you let your wet laundry chill in the washer for a long time before throwing it in the dryer, because the bacteria only multiply in that perfect breeding environment. Studies also found that the heat from the dryer is not enough to kill off all the bacteria that has freshly infected your clothes.
So be wary of that laundry, and placing your hands or other objects on surfaces in bathrooms, especially communal/dorm bathrooms.


1 comment:

John Latto said...

I am totally moving my toothbrush. Actually I think I'll throw it away and start afresh with a new toothbrush. Maybe I'll keep it in a kitchen cupboard....

There was a paper a while back where they swabbed numerous common household items and surfaces and cultured fecal bacteria. One of the most infected sources turned out to be women's purses and bags. I think the explanation was that women frequently place them on the floor in restrooms, which can easily be contaminated, but purses are something that never get washed themselves. Eeugh