By Joyce Gathu-You are pressed, so you make that mad dash to the toilet. The sight of the toilet seat fills you with relief and you quickly sit.-Exhaling gratefully, you then proceed to take care of the business that took you there.
Unbeknown to you, you may leave the toilet with a virus and or bacteria that may cause you more problems than you can imagine.
Consequently, the next time you are in a toilet that is used by other people beside yourself, think twice before you sit on that toilet seat.
Although you are unlikely to catch a sexually transmitted disease (STD) from a toilet seat, since most microorganisms that cause STDs cannot survive for long outside the human body, and also because a person’s genitals do not make contact with the toilet seat, you could catch a wide range of viruses such as Hepatitis A and the common cold.
Hepatitis A is a serious liver disease caused by Hepatitis A virus. This virus is found in the stool of people already living with Hepatitis A.
“It can be transmitted from one person to the other through close personal contact. For instance, through toilet seats,” explains Dr Patricia Oyier, a general practitioner in Nairobi.
One in every five people with Hepatitis A is often hospitalised, while others find themselves sick for an entire month, incapacitated and unable to work.
The condition can also be fatal
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about three to six deaths occur per 1,000 cases.
But that is not all; you may also acquire streptococcal infections, a bacteria that causes a variety of health problems including pneumonia, meningitis, urinary tract infections, blood and skin infections.
Toilets that accommodate several or many people are breeding grounds for infection causing germs.
“This is further compounded by the fact that beside the toilet seat, there are so many areas within the toilet from which you could catch germs.
“The toilet door handle, flush handles, toilet cover seat, soap dispenser and towels can easily transmit infection causing germs,” explains Dr Oyier.
Dr Oyier advises people not to flush the toilet with bare hands, but to use a piece of tissue paper to turn the flush handle. According to health experts, women are much more afraid of germs from toilet seats than men.
As a result, in an effort to avoid germs, a significant number of women have devised ways in which they relieve themselves without their bodies coming into contact with the toilet seat.
“I basically do what my friends and I call “assuming the position”; we simply hover above the toilet seat,” Stella Mugo says
Unknown to Mugo and her ilk, this habit can cause more harm than good.
“Hovering makes it difficult for all the urine in the bladder to be released. This can cause urinary tract infections (UTI) that are not only uncomfortable but also painful,” Dr Mark Muiru, a gynaecologist in Nairobi, explains.
Statistics have shown that about half of all women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.
“Women are much more predisposed to UTI than men because, unlike men, they have a shorter urinary tract,” Dr Muiru expounds.
As a precautionary measure, Dr Muiru advises women to either use toilet seat covers if available, or to wipe the seat and cover it with toilet paper before sitting on it.
“Most well established hotels have a toilet seat cover dispenser, but not many people are familiar with them.
“In fact, people often mistake them for paper towels and I often see them use these covers to wipe their hands,” Carol Njambi, a cleaner in a city hotel, explains.
Besides the above risk reducing precautions, proper hygiene and a strong immune system will significantly defend you against germs found in toilets.
By being mindful of the fact that toilets that are shared by many people, such as public toilets, or toilets in offices and restaurants, can easily harbour a variety of germs, one can take precautions to reduce risk of infections.
People are advised to leave the toilet immediately after flushing.
Those in the habit of lingering in the toilets, particularly women who are lured by mirrors positioned within a toilet, have been warned.
The mist from the flush is bound to contain germs. One should leave before it is released into the air and settles on the toilet surfaces, you included.
Where the toilet seat has a cover, one should put it down before flashing.
Medical experts advise people to wash their hands for about 20 to 30 seconds, with soap or sanitising gel if available, paying attention to fingernails.
Equally important is avoiding coming into direct contact with surfaces within the toilet as much as possible, for instance, one can use a tissue paper to turn the tap off and even to open the outer door of a toilet.
Protect your hands and eyes from coming into contact with toilet detergent since some of them are strong and corrosive.
Standard Kenya 8/7/2012