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Flushing the toilet might give you coronavirus

Published Apr 23rd, 2020 11:17AM EDT
Coronavirus Tips News
Image: New Africa/Shutterstock

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  • A review of existing research suggests it’s possible that the novel coronavirus may spread via bathroom use.
  • The review, which included studies as old as the 1950s, reveals that a “toilet plume” may contain biological material capable of causing infections.
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One of the aspects of the novel coronavirus pandemic that seemed to take health experts and doctors by surprise was how incredibly easily it seemed to spread from person to person. At first, it was thought that only symptomatic people were contagious, but that was later proven to be false, and we now know that even individuals who have no symptoms can spread the virus to others.

Now, a new review of research associated with disease transmission via feces suggests that it’s at least possible that individuals who test positive for coronavirus may spread the disease to others after using the bathroom.

The work, which was published in the American Journal of Infection Control, was not a direct study of the possibility of disease transmission via poop, but rather a review of existing studies related to this research. The so-called “toilet plume” was the focus of the review, and the researchers hoped to either confirm one way or another whether a visit to the toilet could enhance disease transmission.

“The potential risks associated with “toilet plume” aerosols produced by flush toilets is a subject of continuing study,” the researchers explain. “This review examines the evidence regarding toilet plume bioaerosol generation and infectious disease transmission.”

Upon examining a wealth of existing research dating as far back as the 1950s, the authors of the paper explain that flushing a toilet that contains fecal matter can produce bioaerosols that remain in the air for an extended period of time. Much of the research suggests the material remains in the air for up 8 minutes after the toilet was flushed.

Additionally, the authors considered research that studied the spread of microorganisms around a bathroom setting as a result of the toilet being flushed with waste inside. Those studies emphasized the importance of flushing with the toilet seat down, as it prevents much of the spread of biological material around the room. We already know that the novel coronavirus can remain on surfaces for a long time, so this may turn out to be particularly important.

However, it’s important to note that none of this research was done specifically with COVID-19 in mind. The peer-reviewed articles being reviewed here were written far in advance of the pandemic, and while they may offer us some clues as to how we should proceed, the authors of this new paper emphasize the fact that additional research needs to be done.

“Research suggests that toilet plume could play a contributory role in the transmission of infectious diseases,” the authors conclude. “Additional research in multiple areas is warranted to assess the risks posed by toilet plume, especially within health care facilities.”

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