Flushing your toilet could make you ill: New study details precautions to take

These findings, according to researchers, put the spotlight on public facilities in the US and other countries, which often lacks lids

                            Flushing your toilet could make you ill: New study details precautions to take
(Getty Images)

Staying safe in the Covid-19 era may need a small tweak to our habits: closing the toilet lid before flushing, suggests a new study. But public facilities in the US and other countries often lack lids, which according to the researchers, raises the risk of infections. The risk is due to flushing. It can launch tiny droplets -- fecal matter and coronavirus particles -- from an infected person into the air. After reaching the height of nearly three feet, they can linger in the room or settle on surfaces. When this happens, the next user may contract the disease by inhaling these particles or touching a contaminated surface, according to the study.

Even other bacteria and viruses from fecal matter could spread via flushing. “The aerosols generated by toilets are something that we’ve kind of known about for a while, but many people have taken for granted,” Joshua L Santarpia, a professor of pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times. “This study adds a lot of the evidence that everyone needs in order to take better action," he added.

A relative of the new coronavirus called the SARS virus could spread via the fecal route. Infectious stool that spread because of faulty plumbing and ventilation system in an apartment complex is believed to have caused the disease in more than 300 residents in Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS epidemic. The verdict on whether Covid-19 spreads through fecal matter is not out yet. So far, scientists have detected traces of the virus in human wastes -- but they are not sure whether they are infectious. "However, to date, only one study has cultured the virus from a single stool specimen. There have been no reports of fecal-oral transmission of the Covid-19 virus to date," the World Health Organization (WHO) wrote on its website.

The vortex caused by common annular flushing. Right: Large-scale spread of virus particles after flushing (J-X Wang)

In this study, scientists recreated a flushing mechanism using computer modeling. During this process, water moves from one side and strikes another, creating vortices. It then advances upwards into the air, launching about 6,000 tiny droplets and even smaller particles to a height of nearly 3 feet. The spread also depends on the number of inlets in the toilet. A facility with two inlet ports could hurl 60% aerosols high above the seat. "One can foresee that the velocity will be even higher when a toilet is used frequently, such as in the case of a family toilet during a busy time or a public toilet serving a densely populated area," co-author Ji-Xiang Wang, of Yangzhou University, said in a statement.

Based on their findings, researchers suggest it is time we rethink our toilet designs. Until then, experts recommend closing the lid before flushing, cleaning surfaces, and washing hands after use. "While this study is unable to demonstrate that these measures will reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, many other viruses are transmitted through the fecal-oral route, so these are good hygiene practices to have anyway," Bryan Bzdek, an aerosol researcher at the University of Bristol, said in a statement, according to CNN. 

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