Understanding the 'sneeze effect'

PHOTO: Understanding the 'sneeze effect'

Here is a little-known fact: every time you flush the toilet, an invisible cloud of dirty water and fecal bacteria is projected out of the bowl to land on every exposed nearby surface.

This includes the toilet seat, toilet paper, seat covers, handles and restroom floor up to an area of eight feet out.

Not alarmed yet? This spread of bacteria can survive for up to 24 hours and cover the entire washroom in less than a minute.

This aerosol spray of bacteria all over the washroom with every flush was documented in a study by Dr Charles Gerba, and is known as the "Sneeze Effect."

The study found that large numbers of bacteria and viruses remain in the toilet bowl even after persistent flushing, due to the gradual absorption of micro-organisms into the porcelain surfaces of the bowl with each flush.

This results in a build-up of bacteria and viruses with regular usage, and the droplets produced subsequently by the flushing of toilets harbour these harmful bacteria and contaminate the surrounding area.

The detected to fall out onto restroom surfaces indicates they remain airborne long enough to settle on surfaces throughout the bathroom. Hence, there is a very real possibility that a person may acquire an infection from the aerosol produced by a toilet.

Germ hot-spots

Washrooms can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, which can cause food poisoning; Streptococcus, which can cause throat infections; and Escherichia Coli, which is known to cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Other commonly found bacteria include Hepatitis A and common cold and flu germs.

These bacteria can be found on the major 'hots-pots' of any washroom: toilet seats, walls, flush handles, taps, wash basins and door knobs.

The average person visits the toilet at least 3 times a day - that is about 1,200 times exposure to cross-contamination per year and thus potentially risk falling sick.

For public washrooms with heavy traffic, there is an increased risk of spreading unwanted viruses among the population.

Reduce the hygiene risks in your washroom

Reduce the hygiene risks in your washroom

Washroom hygiene requires round the clock sanitation that can effectively prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.

Washrooms that are not sanitised properly become cross-contamination hot-spots that will quicken the spread of illness.

Read on below for pointers to how to keep your restroom germ-free.

Cubicle Hygiene

Invest in cubicle hygiene products such as toilet seat cleaners and surface sanitisers. Alcohol wipes and disinfectants work well, or simply use hot water and bleach.

Feminine Care

Ensure that you have a proper system in place for the disposal of feminine and nappy waste.

Floor Care

Protect the flooring with mats which can trap and retain dirt entering the washroom, as well as reducing slipping accidents.

Hand Hygiene

Bacteria often spreads into unwanted areas simply because people aren't washing their hands. After going to the loo, reduce the spread of disease and illness by engaging in some good hand hygiene.

Information provided by Rentokil Initial , partner of the Restroom Association of Singapore.