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Researchers from NHS Lanarkshire in Scotland have identified hospital bathrooms, particularly men’s toilets, as breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi, including drug-resistant superbugs, posing a potential threat to hospital hygiene.

Male toilets have more microbes than female toilets

Stephanie Dancer, a professor and consultant microbiologist at NHS Lanarkshire, conducted a study where her team swabbed different surfaces in hospital bathrooms. They explored common areas like toilet flushes and door handles as well as less obvious spots like ceilings and air vents. The findings, revealed the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Global Congress in Spain, highlight concerning levels of bacteria present in these frequently used areas.

In the study, it was found that women’s bathrooms generally have fewer microbes compared to men’s bathrooms, with female staff toilets being the cleanest. This difference may be attributed to societal perceptions, as women tend to be more proactive in cleaning due to their sensitivity to dirt and disgust, while men may not notice or care about a dirty environment, assuming someone else will clean up after them.

The study revealed that patient toilets harbor multi-drug resistant bacteria, known as superbugs, posing a growing global threat. Superbugs like Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were identified, capable of causing severe infections, especially in immunocompromised patients.

Gender neutral toilets have high microbial burden

Surprisingly the discovery of bugs on high surfaces like ceilings and air vents was unexpected. The theory suggests that flushing toilets aerosolize particles, causing them to contaminate high areas. Gender-neutral and disabled toilets show the highest microbial burden, possibly due to increased use and varying cleanliness habits. Closing the toilet lid before flushing is recommended as a simple solution.

The presence of airborne microorganisms and contaminated surfaces poses infection risks. Dancer suggests that hospital toilets should have lids, closed before flushing, and cleaned more frequently. Additionally, Dancer recommends maintaining single-sex toilets instead of converting all to unisex.

Dancer suggests keeping single-sex and disabled toilets while adding unisex facilities. However, the study suggests retaining single-sex toilets due to their lower microbial burden. It emphasizes the importance of education on hand hygiene to reduce germ spread.