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.
“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.”
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.”
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 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.