What you should know about toilet seats and pigs

Was Mother right when she advised to never sit on a public toilet seat? Vancouver believed it had solved this ‘pottie’ fear by installing automated toilets. But they proved we still need to teach humans to behave as well as pigs.

“How well do you know Toronto,” I once asked a newcomer to the city. “Well,” she replied, “I now know the location of the pubic toilets.” This topic will not win the Noble Prize in Medicine, but it’s vital knowledge if you suffer from urinary or bowel problems.

Vancouver believed it had solved pottie paranoia by installing hi-tech potties. Touch a button and the door slides open, followed by voice instructions. Then, after each use, the facility is automatically cleaned and disinfected. In 2011 they were used by 177,000 people, but vandalized 856 times. Homo sapiens also flush blue jeans, sweaters and T-shirts down the toilet. Such human behaviour may force the city to close these facilities.

A farmer friend of mine is right. Pigs are cleaner than some humans, smart, make good pets, and never foul their environment. Sure, pigs roll in mud, but that’s to get rid of bacteria and funguses.

But is it reasonable to be pottie paranoid? If you have this worry you’re not alone. One survey showed that 30% of people ‘hold it’ rather than use a public toilet. Forty per cent flush the toilet with their feet and 60% hover over it.

Good sense obviously tells us that toilet seats are hardly the most hygienic areas. Moreover, scientific studies back up this concern. For instance, one report showed that 97% of seats harbour bacteria that cause boils, 81% harbour germs that cause diphtheria and hepatitis, 39% have bacteria that cause sore throats and 19% are infected with staphlococcus and salmonella bacteria associated with food poisoning.

But can toilet seats transmit venereal disease? It’s estimated that 20 million North Americans have genital herpes. For years it’s been believed that the virus could only be picked up by sexual contact.

But then Dr. Trudy Larsen, a researcher at the University of California, startled the scientific world. Her discovery will also not win the Noble Prize, but her simple experiment put to rest a common misconception.

Larsen took samples from genital herpes lesions and placed them on a toilet seat. She also asked a patient with an open active lesion to sit on the seat for a few seconds. Later that year, at a scientific meeting, she informed doctors that the herpes virus survived for at least four hours on the toilet seat.

To further prove her point Dr. Larsen took samples of the virus from 10 patients with active lesions. She then infected rubber gloves, instruments and dry gauze with the virus. They were all left in the open air and examined hours later.

The results were shocking. It was formerly believed that the virus died quickly when exposed to room air. But the live herpes virus could be cultivated from rubber gloves after an hour, on instruments after 18 hours and 72 hours later from dry gauze.

Another study at McGill University revealed that the Human Papilloma virus has been detected on toilet seats. This is the virus that causes genital warts and is also present in 90% of cervical cancer patients.

McGill researchers proved that an infected bottom isn’t the only way to infect seats. By placing dye in the toilet, and then flushing it, they found dye sprayed all over the seat. What goes in the bowl comes out of the bowl.

Another study showed that if men are standing at a urinal next to each other the spray can travel three feet. That’s also food for thought.

So Mother was right about the pottie. And one woman passed along this practical advice. She said, “With pantyhose at my knees I hover over the toilet, clutching my purse with my teeth, on high heels.” Cirque Soleil would be proud of her.

Now if we could only teach humans to behave like pigs.

Next week – the most important column I’ve ever written, a remedy to prevent heart attack.

See the web site at www.docgiff.com. For comments, info@docgiff.com.

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