Friday, August 21, 2020

What to Know About COVID-19, Public Bathrooms, and 'Toilet Plume'

Step one: Close the lid before flushing.

Image: Peter Dazeley

By Sarah Jacoby

By now you likely know the basics of preventing the spread of COVID-19. But a bathroom that's public or shared outside of your own home is a unique environment in a few ways—and experts are increasingly interested in the potential for bathrooms to fuel transmission of the coronavirus.

What makes shared restrooms different? For one thing, a bathroom is usually a small enclosed space that's not well ventilated, which we know makes it easier for the coronavirus to spread. Second, we're talking about bathrooms you share with people that you don't live with, which means you're being potentially exposed to new sources of COVID-19 thanks to shared surfaces that may or may not be sanitized regularly.

And, finally, there's the toilet plume, which is the term used to describe what happens after you flush the toilet: The force of the flushing causes tiny particles of everything in the toilet—pee, poop, whatever—to spray into the air, SELF explained previously. This is worrying because some diseases (such as norovirus and Claustridium difficile) are known to spread via fecal transmission, so having more of that matter in the air could make it more likely for those illnesses to spread. So far, research suggests that toilet plume could play a role in the transmission of these diseases, but that idea hasn't been conclusively proven.

Still, the idea of COVID-19 in a bathroom possibly spreading via toilet plume is definitely concerning. We do have research to suggest that particles of the coronavirus are present in feces and that, under the right circumstances, short-range airborne transmission of the virus is possible.  Read more >>