Healthy Body

What You Need to Know About COVID-19 and the Toilet, According to a New Study

Mary Grace Garis

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Photo: Getty Images / ben-bryant

Your bathroom habits may matter when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19. And we’re not just talking about washing your hands—we’re talking about the link between the coronavirus and toilet flushing. In a recent study, published in the journal Physics of Fluid, research found that COVID-19 could not only be passed along by respiratory droplets, but by feces. In fact, one early study of a coronavirus patient showed that fecal matter had higher loads of virus DNA than did respiratory specimens.  So why does that matter if you’re not going to stick your head directly into the bowl?

Ever hear of toilet plumes? They’re essentially the aerosolization of whatever is in your toilet—and I mean everything in your toilet. When you flush, fecal matter floats into the air like pixie dust and lands on your toothbrush. If that doesn’t already have you screaming, apply this concept to the spread of COVID-19: if you’re infected, what happens when you flush is that that a spray of COVID-19 aerosol particles hops out. In fact, in a computer simulation of this flushing procedure, a little vortex could be seen, comprised of 6,000 tiny droplets and particles.

So how on Earth do you reduce harm when it comes to something like toilet plume? Well, in comforting news, the solution really just begins with closing the lid whenever you flush. Research shows that closing the lid can trap all those aerosols and the harmful things they contain. This doesn’t just include coronavirus, but also pathogens like Shigella, E. coli, and C. difficile. So suffice to say that’s a simple, worthwhile lifestyle choice to make. Your toothbrush will thank you, to say the least.

The other thing you could do is make sure that your bathroom is always properly ventilated. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention suggests keeping a window open, using the AC, or any other ventilation technique as an important safety precaution. If you’re an essential worker and using a public restroom where who knows what people are doing, this is definitely worth looking into. Can’t find a window? Keep your mask on during the whole process. In your own space, you can also be mindful of properly cleaning the neglected parts of your bathroom, as well as disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. And yes, wash your hands, but we hope you’ve gotten on that bandwagon by month four of this pandemic.

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