Straight Talk: Toilet Plume and Disease Transmission [Video]
NORTHBROOK, Ill.—July 13, 2020—In this edition of Straight Talk with Jeff Cross, Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of ISSA, discusses how toilets may play a role in transmission of COVID-19. When a toilet is flushed, a plume of aerosolized bacteria and droplets rises out of the toilet as much as three to six feet. These aerosols can then linger in the air to be inhaled by others who enter the restroom. Since SARS-CoV-2 has been found in the stool of infected people, it is possible for this toilet plume to contain aerosolized virus particles that could be inhaled by others.
Dr. Macgregor-Skinner explains that the toilet plume contains billions of bacteria and viruses and that “research over the years has suggested that toilet plume can play a contributing role in the transmission of infectious diseases.” Dr. Macgregor-Skinner advises that whenever possible, close the toilet lid before flushing and clean the toilet regularly. It’s also important to keep other personal care items, such as toothbrushes, away from the toilet to avoid contamination. In public bathrooms, there is often no lid, so we must be aware of the plume when flushing. Don’t flush while leaning over the toilet, protect your face with a face mask, and wash your hands thoroughly to prevent the bacteria and viruses from the plume from entering your body.
Dr. Macgregor-Skinner also says that cleaning crews and janitorial staff need to protect themselves while cleaning toilets and clean and disinfect thoroughly to reduce the risk of transmission. Another intervention is for public facilities to add lids to toilets to mitigate the risk of infectious disease transmission, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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