Did you live in a residence hall when you were in college or are you currently sharing a bathroom with roommates or family? If you answered yes to either question, you may find a new published study particularly interesting (and perhaps a bit horrifying).
Researchers from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut just presented a study where they analyzed the toothbrushes of college students who shared a communal bathroom with an average of 9 other roommates. The results showed that 60% of the toothbrushes analyzed were contaminated with fecal coliforms. Of those contaminated toothbrushes, 80% had the fecal matter of someone else present in the results.
It appears, from this study, that the use of toothbrushes in a shared bathroom is almost a sure-fire way of spreading viruses and bacteria. The way that feces is found on the likes of your toothbrush is through a process called “aerosolization of feces.” Whenever dried feces are disturbed or when one’s fecal matter is flushed down the toilet, a fecal mist that is invisible to us rises and settles on nearby surfaces. This makes toothbrushes an easy target for the settling fecal coliform as the sink where toothbrushes are usually kept, is generally next to the toilet. This also means, though, that our clothes and other surfaces are likely experiencing some contamination from flushing the toilet.
What can be considered a strange relief is that you need not worry about the feces contamination if you do not share a bathroom with anyone else. You likely still have fecal matter on your toothbrush, but it is not a major issue according to the researchers. “The main concern is not with the presence of your own fecal matter on your toothbrush, but rather when a toothbrush is contaminated with fecal from someone else,” said the study’s lead author Lauren Aber in a press release. The reason why your own contamination is not too concerning, according to the researchers is that the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are possibly in your fecal matter are already part of your normal microbial flora.
What should be even more worrying about this study is that the contaminants were present regardless of how the residents stored their toothbrushes. Is there any way to prevent brushing your teeth with a feces-covered toothbrush? Not really. But the researchers did make some suggestions:
- Do not share toothbrushes
- Rinse toothbrushes before and after use
- Avoid keeping toothbrushes close together
The study was presented last week in New Orleans by Aber and her Quinnipiac University colleagues at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
(Photo courtesy of Pip R. Lagenta)