When we asked people about public restrooms the responses were pretty much the same. Jason Marsh said, "You don't know whose used it, what kind of germs there are - its just kind of sketchy." Cyndee Bowser said, "I have to be desperate. Real desperate to go to the bathroom in a public restroom." Jolinda Carlson said, "I only go if I have to."
The majority of people, who find themselves at the door of a public restroom say they are very careful about what they touch when they go inside. Stacey Barch maybe summed it up best. "They're gross and dirty." Of course, just because someone says its gross - doesn't really mean it is. So, we set out to see just how bad public restrooms are. We spent two months finding out. We tested sinks, door handles, toilet handles, sink handles and a lot more. Then we went back and tested again two months later. And when I say we - I mean me. I tested everything and it wasn't alway pleasant. Quoting myself during one test. "The smell in here is the worst part."
During the testing and right after each test I washed my hands - I mean really washed by hands. Biologist Tonya Morris told me that was certainly the right move. "The number of organisms that you are exposed to changes the likelihood of you developing some sort of a disease from it." Great. We spoke to Morris about restrooms because we took all of your samples to her office - Nelson Labs in Salt Lake City. And we asked her and her colleagues what was really lurking inside of restrooms at Salt Lake City International Airport, a public park, the Utah State Capitol and a Maverik convenience store.
Let's start with the good news.The State Capitol restrooms came back clean - not once, but twice.
Now the bad news - every other restroom turned up something gross. In fact, the restrooms at the airport and the park tested positive for staphylococcus aureus - which Morris says can cause some nasty problems. "It can cause some diseases. It can cause acne, boils, certain skin diseases, toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia."
That's why Trissy Arquette, who has a new born. And Stacey Barch, who has a four year old - avoid public restrooms. We found them visiting Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. They said while they enjoy the park they avoid the restrooms, which were just fifty feet away, as much as possible. Barch said, "We use them when we have to. With a four-year-old you're going to have to go." And when I asked Arquette if she had taken her little one into a public restroom she said, "We try to do it in the car." I asked why. She said, "We feel its cleaner."
I also asked Morris about using public restrooms. In fact, I asked how she approached them? She said, "With caution." She should know - she's been working with germs, bacteria and sanitizers for nearly twenty years. She says the floors are generally the most dangerous areas of a public rest room. They can be covered in bacteria because of people's shoes and because of disgusting toilet spray. "There are aerosols that are created when you flush a toilet which can cause bacteria to fly and land on surfaces that maybe you don't want it to land on." And she says the amount of bacteria we face in a public rest room is also an issue. "The number of organisms that you might run into or might consume or might ingest can affect whether a disease occurs - rather than just your body able to fight off the bacteria."
But certain oganisms are worse than others. And some of the restrooms were worse than others. In fact, the one in this Maverk at 13th South and Main Street in Salt Lake was the worst - testing positive for salmonella, pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli. Morris says, "E. coli is a fecal organism." And she says it can cause serious food poisoning - sometimes, if conditions are right - it can even be fatal.
With that - and your safety in mind - we asked Maverik about our findings. Maverik spokesman David Hancock says, "The rest rooms are on a regular cleaning schedule." Then he added, "We can't possibly clean after each customer." Which is exactly why so many people, like Marnie Thorpe, cringe at using the any public restroom. "I generally don't go out of my way to use a public restroom. I don't know how often it gets clean?
COMMON RESTROOM/BATHROOM BACTERIA:
E. coli: A germ, or bacterium, that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals.
There are many types of E. coli, and most of them are harmless. But some can cause bloody diarrhea. These are called enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). One common type is called E. coli O157:H7. In some people, this type of E. coli may also cause severe anemia or kidney failure, which can lead to death.
Other strains of E. coli can cause urinary tract infections or other infections.
What causes an E. coli infection?
You get an E. coli infection by coming into contact with the feces, or stool, of humans or animals. This can happen when you drink water or eat food that has been contaminated by feces.
E. coli can get into meat during processing. If the infected meat is not cooked to 160°F (71°C), the bacteria can survive and infect you when you eat the meat. This is the most common way people in the United States become infected with E. coli. Any food that has been in contact with raw meat can also become infected.
A pseudomonas infection is caused by the very common bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Healthy people often carry these bacteria around without knowing it and without having any problems. Sometimes these germs cause minor problems like swimmer's ear and hot tub rash. But for people who are weak or ill, these germs can cause very serious-even deadly-infections in any part of the body.
The infections are hard to treat because the bacteria can resist many types of antibiotics, the medicines normally used to kill bacteria.
Who gets this infection?
People in the hospital may get this infection. In hospitals, the bacteria can spread through medical equipment, cleaning solutions, and other equipment. They can even spread through food.
Salmonella is the most common form of bacterial food poisoning. Within 12 hours to three days after an exposure, people develop nasty diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and stomach cramps. Unlike the watery diarrhea one typically sees with a stomach virus, salmonella usually causes diarrhea mixed with mucus and/or blood. And this infection lasts up to a week.
Most people fully recover without needing any special treatment or medication. Some unlucky people can get dehydrated and end up being hospitalized. And a few very unlucky people can become seriously ill from this infection. That includes young infants, people with weakened immune systems, and the elderly.
How do you avoid getting salmonella and other forms of food poisoning?
1.Make sure to thoroughly wash countertops, sinks, and cutting boards with soap and water when preparing foods with eggs, raw meat, or poultry.
2.Only prepare fully cooked eggs.
3.Make sure hamburger/ground beef is cooked completely until it is brown. Yes, pink makes a juicier burger, but it also makes a germ-filled one.
4.Use pasteurized eggs in recipes that call for raw eggs (like Caesar salad dressing).
5.Keep eggs, meat, and poultry properly refrigerated.
6.Keep all baby bottles, pacifiers, and breast pump supplies away from food preparation areas.
7.Keep pet iguanas or turtles out of the kitchen counter area. (You think I am joking… I had a patient get salmonella this way). Make sure to wash hands thoroughly after handling.
8.Buy only pasteurized apple cider and other juice products.
9.Wash hands thoroughly after visiting a petting zoo.
Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria that can cause a number of diseases as a result of infection of various tissues of the body. Staphylococcus is more familiarly known as Staph. Staph-related illness can range from mild and requiring no treatment to severe and potentially fatal.
Over 30 different types of Staphylococci can infect humans, but most infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococci can be found normally in the nose and on the skin (and less commonly in other locations) of around 25%-30% of healthy adults and in 25% of hospital workers. In the majority of cases, the bacteria do not cause disease. However, damage to the skin or other injury may allow the bacteria to overcome the natural protective mechanisms of the body, leading to infection.
Who is at risk for Staph infections?
Anyone can develop a Staph infection, although certain groups of people are at greater risk, including newborn infants, breastfeeding women, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, vascular disease, and lung disease. Injecting drug users, those with skin injuries or disorders, intravenous catheters, surgical incisions, and those with a weakened immune system due either to disease or a result of immune suppressing medications all have an increased risk of developing Staph infections. Staph infections are contagious until the infection has resolved.