Flushing Toilet-Preventing spread of infections

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Flushing Toilet-Preventing spread
of infections
Prof. Emeritus Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar
Former Surgeon General/DG Pak Armed Forces

There are hazards of open defecation which leads to spread of infections. It is a serious problem in the SAARC-Pakistan is no exception. About 40% of the population particularly in the rural areas indulge in open defecation- causing contamination of water, vegetation and eatables etc. There is a dire need to have built in toilets. To save from infections toilets should be well ventilated. The facility of flushing the toilet helps in keeping the toilet clean but flushing the toilet without taking precautions may spread infection. Studies have shown that flushing a toilet can generate a cloud of aerosol droplets that rise nearly three feet. These droplets may linger in the air long enough to be inhaled by the next user or might land on the surfaces in the washroom.

This toilet plume is not just gross. In simulations it can carry infectious Corona Virus particles that are already present in the surrounding air or recently shed in a person’s stool. The research published June 18, 2020 in the Journal Physics of Fluids, adds to growing evidence that the coronavirus can be passed not only through the respiratory droplets but through faeces too. While it remains unknown whether public or shared toilets are a common point of transmission of the virus.


Lt. Gen. (R) Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

“The aerosols generated by toilets are something that we’ve kind of known about for a while, but many people have taken for granted,” said Joshua L. Santarpia, Professor of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. This study adds a lot of the evidence that everyone needs in order to take better action.

Typically the corona virus has affinity for cells in the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat) and in the lungs- due to the ACE enzyme but studies have also found that the virus can also adhere to cell receptors in the small intestine. Patients have been reported to have symptoms of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting among other symptoms.

Researchers have found viable virus particles in patient’s faeces as well as traces of the viral RNA on toilet bowls and sinks in the hospital- isolation rooms although experiments in the lab have suggested that materials may be less likely to be infectious compared with the virus that is coughed out. A computer simulation of the toilet flushing mechanism showed that when the water pours into toilet and generates a vortex. It displaces air in the bowl. These vortices move upwards and the centrifugal force pushes out about 6000 tiny droplets and even tinier aerosol particles.

Depending upon the number of inlets in the toilet, flushing can force anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the aerosol high above the seat. Scientists find it very alarming. In small bathrooms people might find difficulty in social distancing for the prevention of Covid 19 infections. Usually the bathrooms are poorly ventilated spaces which can increase the risk of exposure to infection. Users also have to consider risks from high touch surfaces like door knobs and faucets. Viral RNA was found in shared toilet areas at one hospital in Wuhan, China.

People can easily prevent the spread of infections from the toilet plume. Close the lid first and then trigger the flushing process. Hands should be washed frequently and thoroughly- spend at least 20 secs-clean all surfaces. Avoid touching your face and keep your mask on in the bathroom, which would prevent some exposure to the coronavirus. There are suggestions for the improvement in the bathroom’s design including increased attention to contactless dispensers for soap and paper towels and toilets that can only be flushed after the lids are closed. Experts are considering indoor ultraviolet light and automated disinfectant sprays that will zap the corona virus and relieve some of the pressure in keeping public/communal toilets clean.

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