14 September 2021

Next to no chance of catching COVID-19 from a public toilet, ANU finds

| James Coleman
Join the conversation

The risk of airborne transmission in a toilet is low. Photo: Jasmin Sessler.

There is little risk of contracting COVID-19 in public toilets, according to new research.

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) have found no evidence of airborne transmission of the virus within public toilets.

In what could only have been a glamourous task, the researchers examined studies published over 20 years from 2000 to 2020, to find the risk of contracting viral and bacterial infections through inhalation, surface contact, and faecal-oral routes.

ANU Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis said that provided people stick to good hand hygiene and the facilities are well maintained, the risk of getting COVID-19 from a public toilet is low.

READ ALSO #CoolQueanbeyan celebrates Q-town’s mid-century quirks

“We realise people are worried about using public washrooms during the pandemic, but if you minimise your time in the bathroom, wash and dry your hands properly, and don’t use your mobile phone, eat or drink, then bathroom use should remain low risk.”

Professor Vardoulakis said they also couldn’t find any evidence of a COVID-19 case directly linked to a public toilet.

“Findings from other studies suggest that airborne transmission is a potential route of transmission of COVID-19,” he said. “However, we didn’t find evidence of that in public toilets in studies published during the first year of the pandemic.”

Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis, from the ANU Research School of Population Health. Photo: Lannon Harley.

The reasons the risk is minimal is because a person is by themselves in the toilet and usually doesn’t spend much time in there. There is also no real need to hold your breath when flushing the toilet.

“Importantly, the aerosols you may inhale when you flush the toilet come from your own human waste,” Professor Vardoulakis said.

“The risk of cross contamination is not very high – as long as people wash and dry their hands properly, and the washroom is well maintained and ventilated.”

READ ALSO Can’t leave the local area? Here are the best walking tracks near you

According to the researchers, environmental samples from toilets in COVID-19 hospital wards in Singapore, China, England and Italy showed evidence of SARS-CoV-2 presence on common bathroom surfaces including the toilet bowl and lid, sink, tap and drain, and toilet door handle.

“Contamination is different from transmission. We found public washroom surfaces can become contaminated with bacterial and viral pathogens,” Prof Vardoulakis said.

However, once again, effective hand hygiene, surface cleaning and good maintenance brings the risk of infection down to safe levels.

The study includes a whole host of recommendations including fitting public toilets with electric doors and closing the lid of the toilet before flushing.

The public toilet block adjacent to the Chisholm Tavern

The public toilet block adjacent to the Chisholm Tavern. Photo: Michael Weaver.

The research was funded by Dyson, a company behind many of the air driers found in public bathrooms and famous for its work with air in general.

Earlier this year, Dyson also looked into how global attitudes towards hand hygiene have changed since COVID-19 began. This included interviewing 544 people from Australia. They found that 66 per cent of people were less likely to leave the toilet without washing their hands.

The study also revealed that when it comes to public bathrooms the main frustrations felt around the world are unclean toilets (70 percent), lack of toilet paper (51 percent), and unclean common areas (48 percent).

All of this comes as a relief to all those caught out during the prescribed two hours of outdoor recreation.

If this is you, Department of Health has a website to help called The National Public Toilet Map. Enter your location and the map will come alive with any public toilets in your vicinity, how far away they are by foot and car, and perhaps most importantly, if they’re open.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

So some random walks through a shopping centre, registering at the entrance, then finding they have COVID. Operation Panic put in place. The same random goes to a public dunny and touches everything, well that’s fine then

A virus so deadly that you need to get tested to know you have it.

What is the chance of catching covid from the birds or the trees? So why wear a mask when walking outside with not a person in sight? Why do people wear masks alone in their own car?

“So why wear a mask when walking outside with not a person in sight? “

You don’t have to, check: https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/act-status-and-response/face-masks

Though in my experience, there are a significant number of very inconsiderate cyclists who zoom past from behind without ringing their bells to give warning. Those that do ring their bells typically give enough time for walkers to adjust their masks.

So even when you think there is not a person in sight, an inconsiderate cyclist can sneak up on you.

I thought it was law for bikes to have bells. I’ve been paying more attention and many don’t seem to have them, especially those which travel very fast. Perhaps it is time for the government to do spot checks and hand out some fines. In this current COVID era, it is even more useful to get warning of bikes approaching from behind.

“Why do people wear masks alone in their own car?”
My first reaction is because they are morons, but I’m probably being very unfair and presumably they do have a good reason.

If you can’t catch it from sitting on the can when you can literally smell every other sickness that have come out of people the entire morning, I doubt you can catch it from a cyclist whizzing past you giving you 1 millisecond of exposure in an outdoor environment.

You are presuming the pedestrian doesn’t have earphones on. I have rung my bell and then been accused of not ringing the bell by earphone wearing pedestrians.
I don’t know why people want to cut themselves off from the environment, and not hear the birds, and bikes coming up behind them.

“My first reaction is because they are morons, but I’m probably being very unfair and presumably they do have a good reason.”
The must be wearing a mask in case they catch it from themselves.
Why do cyclists not have to wear masks but walkers do? Walking can be a very vigorous activity.
If you have to wear a mask outside but not when drinking, is it ok to walk around the block with a cup of coffee?
There is much stupidity in these medically mandated rules from the Chief Nanny.
And too much mindless compliance from a docile and bovine population that should be more challenging and questioning.

“Why do people wear masks alone in their own car?“

This one always gives me the chuckles.

This doesn’t make any logical sense. If there is surveillance footage of someone passing by a COVID positive individual in a mall and catching it with under 15 seconds of being in the vicinity how is the risk low if you are there 5 mins in the adjacent stall or next to them at the urinals?

Capital Retro4:54 pm 14 Sep 21

First of all, one has to find a public toilet.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.