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Hepatitis Contagion in a Public Bathroom

Nicole Cutler L.Ac.

June 5, 2009

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Bathroom surfaces are known harbingers of germs. Learn whether or not someone is likely to pick up viral hepatitis from using a public restroom.

Nobody wants to be sick – especially with a form of viral hepatitis that causes chronic liver disease. Such a desire for wellness has spawned some to fear being in close contact with individuals (or their bodily fluids) of those harboring an infectious disease. Since several hepatitis viruses are known to be highly contagious, there is a valid concern about encountering these pathogens in public places.

As a communal location where the release of bodily fluids (and solids) occurs, few locations are as feared as a public bathroom. Bacteria and viruses lurk on toilet seats, door handles and wash basin faucets. Compounding the worry over potential disease transmission, partially disrobing in a restroom can make some feel increasingly vulnerable. Despite concerns of picking up an infectious disease in a public bathroom, attention to hygiene nearly nullifies this worry. Learning about the transmission and prevention of the most common hepatitis viruses will ease apprehension about using a communal toilet.

The three most prevalent, contagious hepatitis viruses are differentiated by the letters A, B and C. Although they all cause liver inflammation, each of these hepatitis viruses are different illnesses caused by different pathogens.

Hepatitis A

Thanks to its vaccine, a majority of Americans are already protected from the Hepatitis A virus. In addition, this typically short-lived illness creates lifelong immunity in those who have been previously infected.

Hepatitis A is spread through the fecal/oral route. Sparking the attention of those afraid to use public restrooms, this virus is passed on through feces. Unless a potentially contaminated toilet seat is licked, the hands are the most likely vehicle for delivering fecal particles to your mouth.

Thoroughly washing your hands after using the restroom eliminates the possibility of picking up Hepatitis A from a toilet. The most effective hand washing sequence involves:

  • Using hot water
  • Lathering up with soap for at least 20 to 30 seconds
  • Washing your palms, backs of your hands, in between your fingers and under your fingernails with friction

Because you can’t rely on everyone thoroughly washing their hands after defecating, experts advise using a paper towel to turn off the water faucet and to open the bathroom door. This way, you can prevent re-contaminating your hands with someone else’s germs. Of course, your hands could pick up germs anywhere, so washing your hands before eating is an equally important way to protect yourself from Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

Although the Hepatitis B virus could cause a chronic infection, the available vaccine has protected many people from this disease. Hepatitis B is primarily transmitted through blood, but has also been detected in other bodily fluids such as sweat, tears, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. However, exposure to any of these fluids must make contact with blood or a mucous membrane for transmission to occur.

Therefore, the risk of acquiring Hepatitis B from using a public restroom is extremely small unless you sit directly on a contaminated toilet with open sores on your behind or backs of your legs. If you do have wounds that could touch the seat, squatting above the seat and/or covering it with a liner or toilet paper will provide an extra level of protection.

Hepatitis C

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, a virus that causes chronic liver disease in over 80 percent of infected individuals. Since Hepatitis C is only spread from blood to blood contact, it is nearly impossible to catch in a bathroom unless you have open sores that make contact with fluid containing contaminated blood.

Basic hygiene practices and common sense should remove any fears about picking up a hepatitis virus during a public restroom visit. Stay safe by keeping open sores off the toilet seat, using a paper towel to touch faucets and door handles, and washing your hands well after visiting the restroom and before eating. In addition, the following tips are intended to reduce viral transmission risk even further:

  • To keep others’ germs away from your hands, flush with your shoe.
  • When flushing, keep your face turned away from the bowl in case of any splashing.
  • Wipe a wet throne before taking a seat.
  • If there is no hot water for washing, or no paper towels to open the door, rub some hand sanitizer vigorously between your hands.
  • In case there is an improperly disposed of, contaminated needle hiding in the trash, never push your hand into the garbage can.

Despite the relatively high amount of germs lurking in public bathrooms, it is very simple to circumvent disease transmission there. Aside from taking advantage of the vaccinations currently available, following the essentials of restroom cleanliness can effectively protect you from picking up a hepatitis virus from a public bathroom.

References:

http://centretownnewsonline.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=226&Itemid=98, Tossed needles a hazard in public restrooms, Courtney Symons, Retrieved May 24, 2009, Centretown News Online, 2009.

http://www.askmen.com/sports/health_60/68_mens_health.html, What Can You Catch from Restrooms?, Joshua Levine, Retrieved May 18, 2009, IGN Entertainment Inc., 2009.

http://www.livescience.com/health/060603_popsci_toilet_seats.html, The Truth About Toilet Seats, Melissa A. Calderone, Retrieved May 18, 2009, Imaginova Corp., June 2006.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1598/what-diseases-can-you-catch-from-toilet-seats, What diseases can you catch from toilet seats?, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, Retrieved May 18, 2009, Straight Dope, 2009.

Posted by Nicole Cutler L.Ac. on June 5, 2009

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