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Don't touch! Study confirms your worst fears about public potties

Going for a bathroom break? You may want to rethink that.
Going for a bathroom break? You may want to rethink that.

No. 1: A new study on the germ orgies going down in America’s public restrooms truly puts the “P” in repulsive, repugnant and “Hey, how awesome are my Depends?”

No. 2: If you can, maybe just hold it until you get home.

Going for a bathroom break? You may want to rethink that.

Yes, we’re talking about relieving those two basic bodily functions and doing so in some of most bacteria-bedecked spaces anywhere. As long suspected, bathroom surfaces in U.S. restaurants, airplanes, stores, hospitals and other busy locales are often heavily contaminated with illness-causing microbes – and, in some cases, the bug colonies are even too large to measure, according to a paper to be presented Friday to the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Boston.

“I was surprised (at the sheer quantity of creepy crawlies) but, at same time, I wasn’t surprised because people use these things and people touch things,” said Dr. Lennox Archibald, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

“It does make you step back a bit and stake stock of the whole hand-hygiene thing,” added Archibald, who will present the findings. “And yes, it could make one paranoid.”

From December 2010 through last February, Archibald and his colleagues swabbed and cultured faucets, paper-dispenser levers, and door handles inside the bathrooms of four aircraft and 18 other crowded spots such as fast-food restaurants. Names of the businesses were not released. Among the types of microscopic critters commonly discovered were staphylococcus (which can cause fevers and chills) and bacillus (which can cause diarrhea).

“For several restrooms, the quantity of microorganisms was too numerous to count,” Archibald’s paper reports. “…To date, there have been virtually no quantitative or qualitative assessments of the range of bacteria contaminating public restrooms.”

Given these invisible fecal fests, should we simply cross our legs, squeeze our thighs and endure the pain instead of accessing public restrooms?

“If you have to use it, you have to use it,” Archibald said. “You just have to be careful where you touch after you wash your hands.” Ideally, public bathrooms should be stocked with paper towels so that your skin needn't come into contact with anything yucky.

Then again, he added: “You can wash your hands till the cows come home. (If we swab your freshly scrubbed palms and culture the results), you are going to grow something.”

Bill Briggs is a frequent contributor to and author of “The Third Miracle.”