STONE: Is your bathroom making you sick?

This year’s flu epidemic has certainly been one for the ages. Across the United States, we’ve seen a record number of cases, inundating our area physician offices, clinics and emergency departments of late. There are also reports of patients having had a cold, or even the flu more than once this season. While catching the cold or flu more than once in a season is more a rarity than the norm, it begs a common question many ask in how we can keep from getting sick again. Aside from frequent hand washing, covering our coughs and sneezes, staying hydrated, and just shy of secluding ourselves from the general population, what else can we do? One answer might just be found in your bathroom.

Depending on what surfaces they land on, cold and flu viruses can survive outside the body anywhere from just a few minutes to up to 48 hours. These germs tend to remain active longer on harder type surfaces such as plastic, metals such as stainless steel or glass to highlight a few examples. Most, if not all of these surfaces, are found throughout our homes and offices … particularly the bathroom. Between metal handles on doors, showers and knobs for the faucet to the porcelain ceramics in the sinks, tubs and toilets, there are multiple surfaces ideal for cold and flu viruses to play hide-and-seek on.

The other variable making bathrooms, in particular, a haven for infectious viruses is they are a common use area for multiple people. With the average person using bathroom facilities between 6 to 10 times per day, you see how the overall use of these facilities can exponentially grow based on the actual number of people that use them. Also consider the fact that some studies suggest that up to 62 percent of men and around 44 percent of women do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Let me repeat that so it sinks in … they DO NOT wash their hands after going to the bathroom. If that’s not alarming enough, the vast majority of people who do actually wash their hands do not do an adequate enough job as they should. The result is continued contamination, not only in the immediate area of the bathroom, but everything they touch after leaving … door handles, phones, money, salt shakers, shaking other hands … you get the picture.

Let’s take some additional inventory of items in bathrooms lending their mobility and communicability to the perpetual infectious cycle starting at the sink. There you may find a toothbrush, toothbrush holder, soap dispenser, towel holder, mirror, faucet, sink and perhaps door knobs or handles of some degree. Ask yourself … when the last time any of these surfaces were cleaned last? Whether the answer is recently, or I can’t remember, the solution is the same. Clean these areas more frequently than you already do, as often as you can, and using the cleaning agents according to manufactures’ recommendations. Just as with hand washing, far too many people fail to use cleaning agents appropriately. Most cleaning agents need to stay in contact with the surface for several minutes for them to be effective. This means spraying or applying the cleaning product on the surface, allowing it to remains for several minutes, before wiping it off completely. Allowing the product to remain on the surface allows it actually kill the viruses that may otherwise cause you or someone else to become sick.

Going back to the aforementioned toothbrush. There’s a common belief they should be replaced after one has been sick. While there is much debate on if that is true or not, it’s safe to just toss the old one and get a new one. Toothbrushes should be changed at least every three months anyway, or more often if the bristles become frayed or damaged. And if any of you engage in the practice of sharing a toothbrush with someone else, please stop for obvious reasons. One, it’s just nasty and two, it’s certainly a very optimal way to pass cold and flu viruses.

It seems while we do our best from becoming sick, we often overlook the most obvious ways we actually do get sick. Take the time today to do a deep dive cleaning on areas, in and around your home and work, focusing on items and surfaces where bacteria and viruses may dwell. It doesn’t hurt to keep a few disinfectant sprays around (like brands such as Lysol) to spray surfaces between cleanings as well. Adding diligent and proper cleaning to your existing repertoire of letting the cold or flu get to you can improve your odds of staying healthy.