June 17, 2020 at 12:22 AM EDT
Put a lid on it, folks: Flushing may release coronavirus-containing ‘toilet plumes’
Add this to our list of worries in these anxious times: coronavirus-containing clouds that waft into the air when a toilet is flushed.
Scientists who simulated toilet water and air flows say in a new research study that aerosol droplets forced upward by flushing appear to spread wide enough and linger long enough to be inhaled.
For all our paranoia about the surface of toilet seats — the tissue paper we oh-so-carefully lay down, the thin covers offered in public stalls — skin contact germ transmission is a relatively small risk compared with what happens when we flush. That’s when bits of fecal matter swish around so violently that they can be propelled into the air, become aerosolized and then settle on surroundings.
The novel coronavirus has been found in the feces of covid-19 patients, but it remains unknown whether such clouds could contain enough virus to infect a person. Experts say we can minimize that risk fairly easily — first and foremost, by closing the lid.
By Karin Brulliard and William Wan