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Bathroom cleanliness is next to healthiness

December 29, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

People spoke of lining the toilet seat with tissue. Some said they used their feet to flush when they finished.

"Ugh. Don't touch anything," said Leslie Flynn, 25, of Hagerstown. "Or avoid it entirely."

No matter how clean they look (or smell), public bathrooms generally call for some form of tactical strategy.

Health officials make it clear that even the cleanest looking bathrooms are fertile ground for germs.

The Baltimore-based American Restroom Association says there's no excuse for restroom drama.

"Typically, bathrooms that are well-maintained won't have those kinds of issues," said Robert Brubaker, project manager for the organization's Public Restroom Initiative.

The American Restroom Association considers itself to be an advocate for what it calls "bathroom rights," Brubaker said. That means everybody has a right to a clean, safe, well-designed public bathroom, he said.

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The American Restroom Association has been trying to change laws to make bathrooms more accessible to the public.

But Brubaker said when it comes to public bathrooms, there were some things that even the law can't touch - namely the people who don't have any sense of bathroom etiquette.

Public potty-goers have to deal with people who don't flush or wipe off the seats. And let's not forget the hurried shoppers who don't wash their hands.

"People are out shopping, handling packages, their hands are dirty," said Kathy Morrisey, director of infection control at Washington County Hospital. "The germs spread by the hands."

Morrisey said hand washing is key to preventing illness. Cold and flu viruses most often are spread via unclean hands.

The people who aren't washing smear their nasty germs all over the faucets, paper towel dispensers and door handles, Morrisey said. People who do wash may inadvertently pick up the germs when they touch a contaminated surface.

"I don't like it when bathrooms have those stupid hand dryer things," said Samyra Sherman, 25, of Hagerstown. "When you have a paper towel, you can use them to open the doors."

A study commissioned by the American Society of Microbiology found that nearly one person out of every five doesn't wash his or her hands after using the bathroom.

The study, conducted in August, observed 6,336 people in public bathrooms from four major cities. Of the people they watched, 81 percent were observed washing their hands. Five years ago, that number was 67 percent.

"That makes me want to wash my hands more," said Iris Shull, 46, of Hagerstown.

Shull, who said she tries her best to avoid using public restrooms, said she is annoyed by people who don't flush.

"The floor could even be a little grimy, as long as the toilet's flushed," she said.

Yes, unflushed toilets are gross. But are they bad for your health?

"That's more of an aesthetic issue," Morrisey said. "It's not like you're going to breathe in any germs."

Miguel Rodriguez, 21, of Hagerstown, said public bathroom germs weren't a big deal to him.

"Oh, I think about (them)," Rodriguez said. "But there's nothing I can do about it."

Rodriguez said his public bathroom pet peeve can't be handled by a bottle of disinfectant.

"When people talk to you," Rodriguez said. "Why do they do that? Sometimes they bump you with their elbow. I just leave."

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