What can you catch in dirty washrooms?

Toilets and bathrooms are breeding places for germs and bacteria. Keeping them clean is a discipline everyone should have. Doctors encourage thorough cleaning of urinals just as we do personal hygiene (like taking a bath, washing hands, brushing teeth and more). Failure to do so could result in diseases and infections.

Dr Iba Mayele, an obstetrician gynaecologist at Clinic Galien, Kimironko, says STDs/ infections can be transmitted through dirty toilets.

Online sources back this up and state that many disease-causing organisms can survive for only a short time on the surface of the seat, and for an infection to occur, the germs would have to be transferred from the toilet seat to your urethral or genital tract, or through a cut or sore on the buttocks or thighs, which is possible but very unlikely.

Michel Baingi Mulebu, a Kigali-based general doctor, says that many diseases are likely to occur due to using dirty toilets and urinals, for instance; urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are rarely sexually transmitted. They are mostly acquired after using a dirty toilet, used by someone who is infected.

“UTIs are acquired because the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body (urethra) is nearest to the anus. Bacteria from the large intestine such as Escherichia coli are in perfect position to escape the anus and invade the urethra. From there, they can travel up to the bladder to the kidneys,” he notes.

Mulebu states that both males and females can get infected with UTIs, though women have higher chances as they have a shorter urethra which allows bacteria to travel quickly to the bladder. Symptoms of UTIs could be a burning feeling when urinating, fever or chills, back pain, and sickness. For treatment, one needs to see the doctor as soon as possible.

Mayele says that one can catch Ebola from toilet seats. The risk would come from a bathroom or toilet that an Ebola victim in an infectious time recently used. Other risks include Shigella (a type of bacteria that can cause severe diarrhoea), streptococcus (a bacteria commonly found in the throat and on the skin), and staphylococcus (a group of bacteria that cause a multitude of diseases) — these microbes can be picked up from vomit or faecal matter.  It is unlikely to get in contact with these microorganisms, unless one sits on the seat with vomit or faecal matter.

He explains that the chance of getting bacteria from a toilet seat is possibly less than the chance of getting it from a door handle, or water faucet, because our hands are filthier than a toilet seat.

Mulebu says that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also common around dirty urinals. These are inflections that are commonly spread by sexual activity, especially vaginal intercourse, anal sex and oral sex, for example; syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, among others. Many STIs initially don’t have symptoms, but have a high contamination risk to others and can be transmitted to infants before or during birth.

He says that symptoms include vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, and penis discharge, and ulcers on or around the genital organs. Complications could be infertility. For treatment, visit the doctor immediately once symptoms occur.

Mulebu adds that vectors can spread in bathtubs, toilet seats, washbasins, and public urinals contaminated by urine, genital secretion (discharge) or stool of sick people. In order to prevent them, use soap or detergent with clean water to wash hands, and clean thoroughly the urinals, toilets, bathrooms, floor, and all the equipment around. The cleaning should be before and after using the bathroom or toilet.

He adds that one should choose showers over bathtubs, wipe from front to back after using the toilet, be careful when using public toilets.

Mayele advises to disinfect all high-touch areas, toilet flush handles, door knobs, faucets, paper towel dispensers, light switches, and walls. Let disinfectants sit on a surface for several minutes in order to kill pathogens.

He says remember to clean toilet brushes every after use with disinfectants. Change these brushes at least once every six months to control germs.