Germs and diseases are on everybody’s mind these days as the Ebola outbreak has us running for pharmaceutical facemasks.

The cases of Ebola in the U.S. – Thomas Eric Duncan, the deceased Liberian man who was infected in Dallas earlier this month, along with his two nurses, and the recently infected New York City doctor – are undoubtedly frightening. But there are germs and illness-causing bacteria that are closer to us than ever expected.

It’s fairly common knowledge that bathrooms tend to be bacteria receptacles. But a lesser-known fact has to do with toilet lids. Flushing the toilet without the lid down causes bacteria to explode up to 10 inches into the air, both aerosolizing and landing on the toilet seat and other surrounding objects, according to a study conducted at Leeds General Infirmary. The bacterium most commonly found in these studies is Clostridium difficile, also referred to as C. difficile, which is known to cause diarrhea and vomiting.

Gross.

What’s more gross is that most toilets at University of Richmond do not even have lids. The option to close the lid, which, admittedly, almost no one does, is not even available on this campus.

There are approximately three million bacteria per square inch in a toilet basin, according to another study. When the toilet is flushed without a lid down, 12 times more bacteria are found around the bathroom compared to when flushing occurs with the lid closed.

“You can find fecal bacteria in your toothbrush if it’s close to the toilet and you flush without the lid down,” biology professor Fernando Gomez said.

With almost 3,000 undergraduate students sharing public bathroom spaces, and flushing toilets hundreds of times a day, the increased exposure to bacteria is concerning. Given the anticipated flu season, Ebola and other common winter illness, it’s time to think about maintaining a health immune system, and installing lids on school toilets.

The cost of installing lids is expensive, at an estimated $30 a piece. But, it would be worth the sanitary benefits, as well as peace of mind. At least for me, now bacteria are the only thing I can think about when I step foot into a public bathroom.

Contact Opinion Editor Stephanie Manley at stephanie.manley@richmond.edu

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